Desserts


It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the boy and I (an engineer and a ph.d. candidate, respectively), are not terribly social people.  We love going out to a nice meal, but having that nice meal on Valentine’s Day, with everyone else in the world, all trying desperately to have the most romantic night possible – whew…well, it stresses us out.  Plus, the food is much more likely to be mediocre or even bad if you go out to eat on a busy holiday weekend like that (the chefs are just trying to keep up and avoid disaster, they don’t have time to focus on making really good food).

So this year, the boy and I continued our tradition of eating at home on Valentine’s day.  What we eat depends on the year, and our mood.  Lots of years we just bake fresh baguette, and pile plates with cheese, sausage or prosciutto, and fruit.  There’s not much that’s more romantic (or just yummy, if you’re eating alone or with friends rather than a partner) than a warm loaf of french bread, a tasty gruyer, and piles of grapes.  Oh, and of course wine.

This year we planned to cook a meal together.  After a lot of debate, we decided on steak with a pomegranate red wine sauce, mashed redskin potatoes, and asparagus.  For dessert, we choose a flourless chocolate cake from the Gluten-Free Goddess.  Sadly, the dinner was a huge disappointment.  The steaks we selected were not very good, despite flawless searing technique on the part of the boy.  The sauce was just not quite right…it seemed overpowering in the pan, but then when served with the steaks, the flavor completely disappeared.  Sad.  The potatoes were good…but they were mashed potatoes, not much mystery there.  The asparagus was also good, but, again, the veg was not the exciting part of this meal.

Luckily for us, the Goddess did not let us down.  This cake is so luscious, so rich and wonderful, it’s unbelievable.  At every stage the batter was silky, rich (and delicious, oh yes, we tasted it…a lot).  It’s also ridiculously easy to make, which is worrying me a little bit, because it would probably be better if there were something to discourage me from making this cake.  The taste and texture is some magical mix of cake, frosting, and fudge, all at the same time.  The Goddess recommends serving it with chocolate sauce or a dusting of powdered sugar.  She must be even more chocolate-mad than I am, because this cake is so rich that I don’t think I could eat it with more chocolate.  I served it with a raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries, which was beautiful (dark chocolate and a vibrant red, plus the freshness of fresh berries), and the tartness of the sauce perfectly balances the richness of the cake.  And, of course, the cake is gluten-free.  And trust me, no one will know, or care.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce
from The Gluten-Free Goddess

16 oz dark chocolate (the best you’re willing to pay for…I used Nestle’s new fancy label)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup very hot strong coffee (or espresso powder in very hot water)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
8 large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 batch Raspberry Sauce (recipe below)
fresh raspberries, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 10-inch Springform pan by lining the bottom with buttered parchment (I didn’t have parchment, so I just buttered the bottom.  It worked fine.)

Break up the dark chocolate into pieces and place in the bowl of a large food processor.  Pulse until the chocolate breaks up into small bits (it will make a godawful noise…).  Add the sugar.  Pulse until the chocolate and sugar turns into an even, sandy grain.

Pour the hot water or coffee slowly into the feed tube as you pulse again.  Pulse until the chocolate is melted.  Magic!

Add the butter pieces and the cocoa powder, and pulse to combine.  (if you taste it at this stage, the batter is positively truffle-like.  Taste it.)  Add the eggs and vanilla, and process until smooth.  The batter will be liquid and creamy.

Pour the batter into the lined Springform pan.  Wrap the outside of the pan with foil (the cake will rise above the top of the pan, so it needs a guide to prevent it flopping onto the bottom of your oven).  Bake at 350 degrees in the center of the oven, til puffed and cracked and lovely – about 55 to 65 minutes (mine took almost exactly 60).  Use a wooden toothpick to check the center of the cake; pick should emerge clean, with maybe a crumb.

Place the cake pan on a wire rack to cool.  The cake will deflate.  Don’t worry!  When cooled a bit, press down on it gently with a spatula to make it even, if you wish.  I skipped this step, because I thought it looked unique and beautiful all cracked and uneven.

When the cake is completely cooled, cover, and chill it for three hours (up to eight hours) until serving.  Release the cake from the pan.  Slice and serve, drizzled with raspberry sauce and sprinkled with fresh raspberries.

Note: I don’t like my cakes cold, so I took this out of the fridge an hour or so before I planned to serve it.  It was perfect!

Raspberry Sauce

10 oz frozen raspberries, thawed
2-4 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons Amaretto or raspberry liqueur (optional)

Combine berries and 2 Tablespoons of the sugar in a heavy saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, stirring to break up the berries and mix in the sugar.  (Berries should break apart themselves, but if you want to make this step a little faster, you can puree them in a blender or food processor first).   Add the liqueur.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Taste (be careful, hot sugar burns!), and adjust sugar and liqueur to taste.  Depending on the raspberries you may need more sugar.  Cool completely before serving.

If the seeds trouble you, you can strain the sauce before serving.  I like them – you can tell the sauce is made from real fruit this way!

Drizzle over cake.  Enjoy!

Note: I use this same sauce to fill layer cakes, I just add a bit of cornstarch to stiffen it up.  It’s unbelievable between layers of red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting!

As you’ve probably noticed by now, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.  All my food snobbery can’t change my love for the roast beef and gravy recipe of my childhood that involves all canned and processed ingredients.  So, when I first found Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies, I was intrigued, but not convinced.  I was intrigued enough to order some mesquite flour from Amazon (I love Amazon, but the shipping price was a little crazy).  Sadly for me (and for everyone else out there in cyberspace), when my flour arrived and I went online to get her recipe, I found it was gone.  She’d taken it down because she included it in her book Super Natural Cooking.  I own this book, but I’d lent it to a friend.  So, I had to wait.

In the meantime, I couldn’t help myself, I just had to open the mesquite flour to see what all the fuss was about.  From the moment you open that bag, the aroma is amazing – it’s warm, nutty, spicy, kind of cinnamon-y and kind of cocoa-y.  I’m considering using it as perfume.  Seriously. 

When I finally got my book back (I shouldn’t say finally, it didn’t take that long…but it seemed like a long time with mesquite flour and organic chocolate chips sitting on my counter, staring at me), I couldn’t wait to make these cookies.  I made mine almost exactly like Heidi’s recipe.  The only differences were I used coconut oil, as part of a new experiment, and regular old (evil) white granulated sugar because I didn’t have the good stuff Heidi’s recipe calls for and I was too lazy (and too anxious to get started on these cookies) to run out to the health food store to get some. 

So, the cookies…this recipe comes together just like a regular chocolate chip cookie dough.  It doesn’t have a ton of ingredients, so I think it’s important to use high quality ones whenever possible.  (Thanks to Tera for bringing this to my attention in the early days of my food snob awakening…it was Tera who practically wrestled a bottle of imitation vanilla from my hand on our first Christmas cookie baking day…I’ve never let her live down her food snobbery, but I’ve also never bought imitation vanilla again).  So, I use organic, free range eggs, organic butter (when I use it), real, high-quality vanilla, and a good brand of whole wheat flour. 

Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking, Celestial Arts, 2007

2 1/2 Cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup mesquite flour, sifted if lumpy
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (I used 3/4 cup coconut oil)
2 cups natural cane sugar (I used the same amount of white sugar)
3 large eggs (organic, from my local farmer’s market)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Position the racks in the upper half of the oven, and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (or silicone baking mats).

Whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  Set aside.  (I like to do this is a large measuring cup or one of those “batter bowls.”  This way you have a spout and it makes it a lot easier to pour the flour into the mixer.

In a large bowl or stand mixer (I used my kitchen aid), beat the butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar until of a consistency like thick frosting.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Stir in the vanilla until evenly incorporated.  Add the dry ingredients in 3 increments, stirring between each addition (I just put the mixer on low speed, and slowly add in the dry ingredients).  At this point, you should have a moist, uniformly brown dough.  Stir in the oats and chocolate chips by hand, mixing only until evenly distributed.

(Here, I have to say, I almost never mix in ingredients by hand.  My personal conviction is that my mixer was a very expensive item, and it should darn well be able to mix up some cookie dough.  So, usually, I make my mixer add in the chips or whatever comes at the end of the recipe.  This dough, however, is very, very stiff.  So, I pressed on with the rolled oats, and my mixer was doing a valiant job, but it was protesting, and groaning, and I finally gave in and finished the job by hand.  The reality is that even if your mixer can do it, the dough is stiff enough that it really needs a human touch at this point to get the oats and chocolate evenly distributed.  If there’s anything that will change my stubborn mind, it’s the thought of a cookie without chocolate chips.)

Drop 2 tablespoons of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown on both top and bottom.  don’t over-bake these, if anything, underbake them.  Cool on wire racks.  (again, of course, Heidi is totally right – I baked these for exactly 10 minutes, and when they came out the seemed awfully gooey and not set.  I gave one that had been cooling for 5 minutes or so to my husband and he immediately declared it underdone.  I ignored him, and the cookies, once cooled are perfect.  If they’d been cooked longer, they’d be dry.)

So, the finished product?  Well, after I burned my tongue on the first cookies to come out of the oven, I have to say, they are absolutely amazing.  They’re moist, nutty (with no nuts, for those of you with allergies), chewy.  They almost taste like you’re eating a chocolate cookie, but not quite.  And I know I’m not the only one who loves them – I found numerous other bloggers who just had to post this recipe because they loved it so much and Heidi took her version down.  So, go, make these cookies, and then go buy Heidi’s book.  It’s amazing, and every recipe is as interesting and tasty as this one!

This recipe for sweet potato casserole comes from my mother-in-law, Debbie, who I believe got it from her mother.  I was never a big fan of sweet potatoes in any form, but this casserole made a believer out of me.  This is now a favorite dish at my family’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter holidays.  This is the only sweet potato dish my sister will touch. 

This is the traditional recipe.  I’ve also lightened the recipe, which I think came out amazingly.  But, for now I’ll stick with the tried and true.

Sweet Potato Casserole
Filling:
4 1/2 cups Sweet Potatoes (canned)
3/4 cup sugar
3 beaten eggs
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 stick of butter
1 ½ tsps real vanilla
Mix all of the above ingredients together (works well in the mixer) and pour into a 13 x 9 casserole dish or an extra large pie plate.
 
Topping 
1 cup of brown sugar (half light half dark)
2/3 cup flour
1 stick butter
1 cup nuts (I use pecans)
 
Crumble evenly over the sweet potato casserole and bake at 350° until hot and bubbly, usually between 30 & 40 minutes.  Serve warm.

This recipe is one of my childhood favorites (I think I say that about all my recipes, but it’s true!).  My grandma always made it for my sister and me when we went to visit her and Papa in Tennessee.  One of the highlights of our summer visits was finding out what desserts grandma had waiting for us.  There were always at least two.  Usually, they included a chocolate pie and this “icebox cake.”  Of course, we usually stayed there for at least 3 weeks, so there were lots of other desserts to be had.  She made (and still makes) amazing red velvet cake, strawberry cake, lemon icebox pie, German chocolate cake, coconut cake, and many, many more. 

This was probably one of our favorites, and to this day my mom makes it when I go to visit, and my sister and I still reminisce about how Papa used to cut the dessert.  Papa was a devoted dessert lover, and we loved when he cut any sort of cake or pie, because he always gave us the size piece he wanted – which was always very big!  My mom (a weight watchers instructor) is not allowed to cut desserts at our house – my sister or I usually take this job, because we can be trusted to give each other enough, and – almost as important – the right part!  This cake is extra fun because of it’s punning name (Cool Whip, Cool Miner’s…like Coal Miner’s…) – I think it’s from the era when convenience foods were a big deal, and Campbell’s casseroles were actually fashionable to serve for your husband’s boss or whatnot. 

If you have kids in the house (or a husband), you can let them crush the Oreos (grandma always let us loose with a Ziploc of cookies and a rolling pin).  You can also give them a zip in the food processor, but what fun is that?  This is a great summer cake, since there is no baking and very little prep.  Perfect for a summer barbeque or picnic – although I have certainly made it in the middle of the winter!

Cool Miner’s Cake
Crust:
Regular package of Oreos
1 cup butter, melted

Filling:
2 small pkgs instant vanilla pudding
1 cups milk
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese (low fat does not work as well)
1/2 cup sugar
1 9 oz. container of Cool Whip

Crush Oreos, reserve 1 cup of crumbs for topping.  Mix remainder of crumbs w/ melted butter.  Press into a 9×13 pan.

Mix cream cheese, sugar, and 1/2 of cool whip, spread over crust. 

Mix pudding packets and milk and spread over cream cheese layer.  Spread remaining Cool whip and sprinkle with extra crumbs. 

Chill at least 4 hours before serving.

I’ve been holding off on posting this recipe, because just looking at it makes me start to drool.  I’m going to try to post this without giving in to the urge to make it….but let’s just say that there might be pictures of this sooner rather than later.

First, let me say that this is not a cake for the faint of heart.  This is a rich, sweet, over-the-top chocolate cake.  The frosting is right on the line between insanely rich frosting and fudge.  It also happens to be quite easy to make.  This was my favorite birthday cake growing up, and when I was in college in Texas both my grandma and my mom sent it to me (it travels amazingly well) via USPS.  I was oh so popular on the days when those packages arrived!  My grandma always made this cake when we came to visit, and then insisted that we eat it as soon as we got there (even if it was 2am; you can see where my love of food comes from).  Now my husband makes it every year for my birthday.

Be careful…the frosting and the cake are both made on the stove-top, and they’re both so luscious and tasty that I often burn myself trying to lick the spoon and pan.   So, try to be patient – but don’t let any of that chocolate go to waste, either!

If you’re not lactose intolerant, serve with a big glass of cold milk! 

Grandma Sally’s Chocolate Cake
For the Cake:
1/2 lb butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup water
4 Tbs. cocoa
2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda

Combine butter, water and cocoa in a saucepan until boiling.  Remove from heat.  Add sour cream and sugar.  Beat eggs lightly.  Temper (slowly adding small amounts of the hot liquid to the eggs; then add to chocolate mixture.  Add baking soda and flour (whisk, whisk, whisk!).  Stir to combine. 

Pour batter into a 9×13 pan.  Bake 30-35 min at 350 degrees.

For the frosting:
1 stick of butter
4 Tbs. cocoa
7 Tbs. milk
1 lb confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine butter, cocoa, and milk in saucepan.  Bring to a gentle bubble, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add sugar and vanilla; beat until smooth (more whisking).  Immediately pour onto hot cake.

*Cake may flatten a little if you pour the hot frosting immediately over the hot cake.  If you let the cake sit for about 5 minutes before frosting, most of the steam will be out of the cake and it shouldn’t flatten too much. 

I hate to admit it, but this recipe actually comes from the book that came with my food processor.  Now, I’ve had more flavorful crusts, and more tender crusts, but they are almost always very delicate and difficult to work with.  This crust has good flavor and a good flakiness, but is pretty user-friendly.  I make it in my food processor, but you could use a pastry cutter and do it by hand if you wanted to.

One Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cold shortening
1 Tbs. cold butter, cut up
2-4 Tbs. ice water

Two Crusts
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold shortening
3 Tbs. cold butter, cut up
5-7 Tbs. ice water

Combine flour and salt in bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to combine.  Add shortening and butter.  Pulse 3 to 4 times, 2 to 3 seconds each time, or until crumbly.  Sprinkle minimum amount of water evenly over mixture (or stream in using the tube of your processor).  Pulse 1 to 3 times, 2 to 3 seconds each time, or until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl and dry ingredients are moistened.  Add additional water if necessary.

On a lightly floured surface, shape into a ball (2 balls for 2 crust pie), I roll mine out on a silicon mat, which makes clean up easy and makes moving the crust around easier.  Roll each ball into a circle 2 inches larger than inverted pie plate.  Fit into pie plate; avoid stretching.  Proceed as directed in pie recipe.

To bake single crust shell, flute edges of crust.  Prick shell thoroughly with a fork.  Weight with dry beans, pie weights, or heavy duty aluminum foil.  Bake at 425 degrees for 9 to 12 minutes, or until light golden brown. 

This is my all-time favorite apple pie.  I know the all-American version is supposed to be a double crust, but in my mind, this crunchy, buttery topping just can’t be beat.  I got the recipe from a long-time family friend – Mrs. Terri, who spent years bringing this pie to holiday events at our house because it was my favorite.  Thanks so much!  When I moved out and got a place of my own (and my own oven), she bought me a beautiful extra large pie plate to make this pie in [picture to come]. 

Mrs. Terri’s Apple Crumble Pie
Filling:
5-7 medium baking apples
3 Tbs. lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs. flour
1 Tbs. lemon rind (optional; orange rind is also yummy, but use less)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbs. butter

To Prepare: Peel and slice apples, place in a large bowl.  Stir in lemon juice, sugar, flour, zest, and spices.  Pour into prepared crust in a 9 inch deep-dish pie plate, or an extra large pie plate.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon.  Cut in butter until crumbly (this can also be done in a small food processor).  Sprinkle over pie. 

Cover crust with a ring of foil to protect it from over-browning.  Remove foil for the last 15 minutes of baking to allow crust to brown.

Bake for 45-50 min at 400 degrees.

*Mrs. Terri makes an extra large crust to fold over pie.  I always follow her lead and make a double crust.  If you have extra, use it for pie art – leaves look particularly pretty on this pie.

*Variation: Melt a handful or so of caramels in a heavy saucepan, adding 1-2 Tbs. heavy cream to loosen the caramel.  Spread caramel mixture in the bottom of pie crust before adding apple mixture.  You can achieve a similar taste simply by serving the pie with store bought caramel sauce.

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