Sunday, July 14, 2013

An afternoon of baking: Flourless chocolate cake

"You have to try the apple cannele at Le Pain Quotidien!" my friend and colleague exclaimed one Monday morning when I got to work. "Better yet, put together a recipe and we'll bake it together!" 

My foodie friends often do this: they'll come across a treat they think is just exquisite, call me up, describe it in great length, and finish by saying, "You should make it!" It's sweet that they have such an appreciation for my baking skills; yet I sometimes suspect they think my talents know no bounds.

But back to the apple cannele.  My friend and I had been talking for some time about devoting a Friday afternoon to baking at my apartment. She described the apple cannele for me: sweet yet not cloyingly so, moist like a custard yet light, not dense. I was sold. 

I set to work in search of a recipe that could inspire me. I came across review after review of enthusiastic fans of LPQ's apple cannele. Then, a blog post with a recipe for one.  The author described the cannele as temperamental, fickle even.  That didn't deter me.  What did, though, was the suggestion for the batter, once made, to be refrigerated for 48 hours prior to baking.  Which meant that my friend would only be there for the baking.  Not really what we had in mind.

So instead, we settled for a flourless chocolate cake, another one of my friend's recent favorite desserts.  We found a Gourmet magazine recipe that looked promising.  After we baked it, we served it with a dusting of cocoa powder and some whipped cream.  When we tasted it, we realized we hadn't settled at all. The cake was dense and moist and, surprisingly, really quick and easy to make (the recipe was fail-proof, in my opinion).  Easily the best flourless chocolate cake I've ever tasted.   And best of all: it's a chocolate treat that even those on a gluten-free diet can indulge in.  It's a deep-dark slice of decadence you'll want to sink your teeth into.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Recipe from Gourmet magazine

4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. 

Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. 

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container, 1 week.)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Day 1 of gluten-free baking: Alfajores

I am now on a gluten-free diet. 

Never would I have made such a drastic (for me) lifestyle change on my own. It all happened over the course of an hour with a nutritionist: after reviewing my recent health and nutrition needs, she suggested a gluten-free diet.  I bristled at the idea: me, a bread lover, avid baker, on a gluten-free diet?  "It'll be a trial for three weeks," she said.  "Think of it as a challenge; have you ever done any gluten-free baking before?"  Try as I might, I couldn't find anything about her proposition appealing.  I continued to resist.  She then urged me to consider it.  I finally acquiesced. 

It only took overnight for me to embrace (yes, embrace!) the idea.

It might have partly been due to timing: this happened just one day after my cupcake fest with fellow food bloggers, one week after my pie-baking class, and six weeks after my Paris trip where I indulged - very heavily, I might add, and gleefully, too - in all things gluten.

So here I was, having committed to no gluten for nearly a month, on the eve of an Argentine potluck I was invited to.  Never one to shy away from a challenge, I decided I would bake.  First stop, Dean and Deluca; they carry gluten-free flour that can be substituted one-for-one for all-purpose flour.  Then onto finding a recipe; I stumbled upon one for Alfajores, which is essentially an Argentinean dolce de leche sandwich cookie.  It sounded divine!

The results: the cookies were light, refreshing with the hint of lemon, and perfectly sweet.  I really don't know if using gluten-free flour made any difference in the texture or taste, never having made these cookies before. But that didn't matter; they were gobbled up by everyone.

Recipe from

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
Two egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon rind, grated
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (the Davis brand is gluten-free)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dulce de leche (I used store-bought)

Cream butter for a minute, add sugar and beat until fluffy.

Add egg and egg yolks, one at a time, beating well. Beat in vanilla and lemon rind.

In a separate bowl, sift together cornstarch, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to mixture and mix well.

Drop batter by small spoonfuls onto well buttered baking sheet.

Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Remove immediately.

Sandwich the cookies together with dulce de leche