Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chocolate on Chocolate Cupcakes

When I became editor of Chocolatier magazine back in 1992 (was it really that long ago?), no one ever talked about the cocoa percentages of chocolate. Your choices were white, milk, semisweet or bittersweet, and you had to rely on brand recognition to figure out just what you were buying and how sweet it was. Thankfully, times have changed, and the American consumer has become much more sophisticated about buying chocolate. Chocolate manufacturers, in turn, are giving us much more information about their products than ever before. High quality bittersweet chocolate has become almost as popular as cupcakes are these days, so I thought it would be a good idea to combine the two. This chocolate cupcake base is made with Dutch-processed cocoa powder and a good amount of sour cream and butter, which makes a moist, fudgy cake with a tender crumb. The frosting has the look of a ganache, but it's actually a simple French-style egg yolk buttercream which has 10 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate added to it. I used E. Guittard 62 percent bittersweet chocolate, one of my favorites. This recipe can also be made as a cake, with two 9-inch layers.

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup alkalized cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sour cream

Silky Chocolate Buttercream:
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup water, divided
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened

Make the cupcakes:
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cupcake pans with paper cupcake cups.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk to blend and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until light, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla extract. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating them with the sour cream in two additions and mixing just until blended. Divide the batter among the cupcake cups and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pans set on wire racks for 15 minutes. Remove cupcakes to racks and cool completely.

Make the buttercream:
4. Put the chocolate and 1/3 cup of the water in a medium stainless steel bowl and place the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Heat, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from over the pot and set the chocolate mixture aside to cool until tepid.
5. In small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar with the remaining 1/3 water. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, just until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring, and increase the heat to high.
6. . Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, begin beating the egg yolks at medium speed while the syrup cooks to the correct temperature. When the sugar syrup reaches 225°F on a candy thermometer, increase the speed of the mixer to high. Continue to cook the sugar syrup until it reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer off, immediately pour about 1/4 cup of the hot syrup over the beaten eggs. Beat at high speed until blended, about 10 seconds. Turn the mixer off and add another 1/4 cup syrup. Beat at high speed for another 10 seconds. Repeat this process until all of the syrup is used. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the side of the bowl and continue to beat at medium-high speed until the egg mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes.
7. At medium speed, beat the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, into the egg mixture. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat the buttercream until it is smooth and shiny, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the cooled chocolate mixture, mixing just until blended. Stir the mixture by hand a few times to make sure it is well blended. Use thebuttercream at room temperature.

Frost the cupcakes:
8. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip (Ateco #6) with the buttercream. Pipe a generous swirl of buttercream onto each cupcake.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lemon Tart with Pistachio Crust, Mascarpone Cream and Pistachio Praline

A few years ago, The Cake Book was featured in The Best of the Best, a book published by Food & Wine. They ran a few recipes and photos from the book, and they asked me to develop a new recipe, which didn't have to be a cake. I created a Lemon Tart which had a pistachio crust and was accompanied by a mascarpone cream and pistachio praline. Unfortunately, the folks at Food & Wine felt the recipe was too long, so we got rid of the praline and the mascarpone cream to shorten it. Here is the original, unabridged recipe, as it was orignially conceived. I love the combination of lemon and pistachio, and I think it works very nicely in this recipe. The lemon filling is tart, yet balanced, which is how I think a proper lemon tart should be. The recipe is for one 11-inch tart, but I decided to make eight 4-inch tartlets for the photo. Serve it at room temperatue or chilled, as you prefer.

Lemon Tart with Pistachio Crust Mascarpone Cream and Pistachio Praline

Makes 8 servings

Pistachio Tart Crust:
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 large egg
1 large egg white for brushing tart shell

Lemon Filling:
2 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

Pistachio Praline:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts

Mascarpone Cream:
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup mascarpone cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the crust:
1.Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the pistachio nuts onto a baking sheet and bake for 5-6 minutes, just until fragrant. Cool completely. Turn the oven off.
2. Combine the confectioners' sugar and cooled nuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until the pistachios are finely ground. Add the flour and salt and pulse until combined. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and pulse about 10 times, until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Add the egg and process just until the dough begins to come together (don't let it form a ball). Transfer the dough to a work surface and form it into a disc. Wrap the disc well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour (or up to 3 days).
3. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Unwrap the dough, place it on the work surface, and dust it very lightly with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 13-inch circle, lifting and rotating the dough often and dusting it lightly with flour as necessary. Fold the dough in quarters and place it in an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Unfold and gently press the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Roll the pin over the top of the pan to trim off excess dough. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Refrigerate the shell for at least 30 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line tart shell with a square (about 14 inches) of aluminum foil. Fill the shell with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Using the overhang as handles, carefully remove the foil and weights from the shell. Return to the oven and bake 10 to 12 minutes longer, or until lightly golden brown.
5. Place the egg white in a small bowl and whisk it with a fork a few times. Brush the bottom of the hot tart shell with the egg white and let cool. Leave the oven on.

Make the filling:
6. Fill a medium saucepan one-third full with water and bring to a simmer. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon juice. Place the bowl over the simmering water (the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl). Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and light in color, about 8-10 minutes. Turn the heat off, but leave the bowl over the pot of hot water. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time, whisking until is is completely melted. Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the center is set and the tart is slightly puffed. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack and cool completely.

Make the praline:
7. Coat a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Combine the sugar and water in a medium, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Continue to cook, without stirring, ,until the mixture turns a light caramel, 2 to 4 minutes.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the nuts. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, until the nuts are completely coated with the caramel and it deepens to an amber color. Immediately pour the caramelized nut mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Allow the praline to cool for 30 minutes, or until hard.
9. Using a large knife, coarsely chop the praline. Place in a food processor and process just until it's finely chopped (it's ok to have a few large pieces of pistachio in the mix).

Make the cream:
10. Place the cream, mascarpone, confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until the cream forms soft peaks.

Serve the tart:
11. Serve a slice of the tart topped with a dollop of Mascarpone Cream. Sprinkle the tart and cream with a generous amount of the Pistachio Praline. (Store any remaining praline in an airtight container. It makes a great topping for ice cream.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cheesecake Ice Cream

I've always been a cheesecake junkie. I love all types and forms, from rustic Italian ricotta cheesecake to dense, knock-your-socks-off New York-style cheesecake. Even frozen cheesecake sounds great to me, so I thought I'd try making a cheesecake-inspired ice cream. My friend Marshall Rosenthal, a pastry chef in Minnesota, makes a version with chunks of baked, chilled cheesecake in it, crust and all. I decided to try adding cream cheese and sour cream to a simple base of creme anglaise. I made a graham cracker crust, broke it into chunks, and served the ice cream on top. A refreshing strawberry sauce is the ideal accompaniment to this delightfully rich ice cream.

Cheesecake Ice Cream with Strawberry Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 pints

Cheesecake Ice Cream:
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
8 large egg yolks
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Graham Cracker Crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Strawberry Sauce:
One 16-ounce bag frozen strawberries, thawed
1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Make the ice cream base:
1. Combine the milk with 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until scalding. Remove from heat.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the yolks. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens enough to leave a path in the back of the sauce-coated spoon when you drag your finger across it. The mixture should register 170 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer. Add the cream cheese, one chunk at a time, whisking until it is completely melted. Pour the custard into a large
bowl. Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Make the crust:
3. Preaheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Bake the crust for about 8 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool completely.
4. Use a butter knife to break the crust up into irregular chunks (1 inch or smaller).

Process the ice cream:
5. Process the ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Pack the ice cream into an airtight container and freeze for a least 4 hours, until firm.

Make the sauce:
6. Process the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a food processor until pureed. Strain through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

To serve:
7. Spoon some graham cracker crust chunks in the bottom of a glass or bowl. Scoop some ice cream on top and serve the sauce in a small pitcher alongside.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pastry in Europe

Pastry in Europe 2009 (Culibooks, 2009) is a glossy new book with a bright pink cover which details the latest recipes and trends in European pastry. Culibooks is a small Belgian publisher of European books and pastry magazines, including Culinaire Saisonnier and Pâtisserie & Desserts. Pastry in Europe 2009 is their first book produced for the North American market, and Culibooks plans on releasing a new version each year. This 256-page, lavishly photographed book highlights Europe’s latest pastry techniques and includes recipes from top pastry chefs and chocolatiers, including Philippe Conticini, Roger van Damme, Oriol Balaguer and Gérald Passédat.

There are also plenty of classic and regional favorites featured, and it’s well worth the eye-popping $99 price tag. For more info, visit or to purchase this book, visit

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Judith's Very Special Fudgy Brownies

I made these incredibly fudgy brownies from a recipe in Sweet Gratitude (Artisan, 2005) by my good friend Judith Sutton. Judith calls them Very Special Fudgy Brownies, and she prefers to use Sharffen Berger 70 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate as the star ingredient. The brownie batter is made with melted unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate, to which shards of bittersweet chocolate are added. The shards, as Judith puts it, "provide unexpected bursts of deep chocolate flavor. While the chocolate melts as the brownies bake, it doesn't dissolve into the batter, and if the brownies are not chilled (other than briefly, for easier cutting), the chocolate stays soft, almost gooey..." If you chill the brownies, they'll have a candy-like texture, and the chunks of chocolate will remain firm. Either way, they are far and away the best brownies I've ever had. I'm sure you'll agree.

Very Special Fudgy Brownies
Makes 48 brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
6 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or cut into shards

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on the narrow ends.
2. Combine the butter, unsweetened chocolate and 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate in a medium, heavy saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from the heat.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and both sugars with an electric mixer on low speed just until smooth. Beat in the salt. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture, then beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the flour in two additions (the batter will be thick). Stir in the 7 ounces chocolate.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until the top is set but still soft and the edges are puffed and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center will come out still gooey (be brave!--underbaking the brownies is one of the secrets to their fudgy texture). Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
5. For the neatest cuts, refrigerate the pan for about 20 minutes before cutting the brownies. Using the foil, lift the brownie slab out of the pan. Carefully peel off the foil and put the brownie on a large cutting board. With a large sharp knife, cut the brownies into 48 squares. (The brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can also be frozen, well wrapped, for up to 2 weeks.)

More about Judith Sutton and why we're friends:
Judith and I met at La Varenne cooking school in Paris in 1986. We were in the same small class and cooked together for nine extraordinary months. After meeting, we soon learned that we had both gone to the same small liberal arts school, Smith College in Northampton, MA. What were the odds on that? After our time in Paris, we both returned to New York, where we cooked in different restaurants. Judith went on to become the greatest cookbook editor of all time, and today she is much sought after by authors and publishers to work on their most important cookbooks (i.e., The Joy of Cooking, The Gourmet Cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook, etc.). Judith is also a celebrated food writer. She also happens to be one of the nicest people I know, and remains one of my very best friends. Thanks, Judith, for being you. And thanks for the brownie recipe, too.

P.S. To purchase Sweet Gratitude, visit

Friday, May 1, 2009

Carrot Cake with Ginger-Lime Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Carrot Nests

Carrot Cake is the quintessential down-home American dessert. It can be found at every diner and coffee shop across the country. Finding a really good carrot cake, however, proves to be more difficult than you'd think. The answer is to latch on to a good recipe and make your own in the comfort of your own home. It's a fairly simple cake and frosting, and the only slightly tedious task involves grating up some peeled carrots. My opinion is that this cake should have a somewhat rustic appearance--I'm not wild about carrot cakes that are gussied up so much that they lose their home-spun character. The basic cake recipe is from The Cake Book, but I've changed the frosting by adding freshly grated ginger and lime juice. The only other alteration I've made to this cake is the addition of deep-fried, candied carrot strips to decorate the top. Pretty, but not entirely necessary.