Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

I've written before about my love for biscuits, and how a good one makes me wistful for the Miami of my childhood, but these biscuits were so different from what I recall from my childhood that they were enjoyed for what they were, a super treat, great spread with cold butter or warm maple cream.

With biscuits it's important to handle them gently, knead them very little, and not twist the cutter when you cut them out. That reduces the rise, and you want them to spring up and get flakey.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits - adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cup cold whole milk
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and brown sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low until the ingredients are combined and no lumps of sugar remain. With the mixer still on low, drop in the butter and mix until the mixture is pebbly (don't over-mix). You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between. Stop the mixer and remove the mixing bowl.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Gently toss and turn the ingredients together with a spatula until you’ve got a nice soft dough. Add the pecans and reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick, gentle kneading–3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. 

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hands until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even–a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use a biscuit cutter or sharp knife to cut out as many biscuits as you can. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. (The biscuits can be made up to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting–just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 13 to 16 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately with soft butter.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Daring Bakers - Cranberry Orange Apricot Bread

I have been remiss in posting Daring Bakers challenges of late, even though I've made at least two that I could never get written and posted. When I saw this month's challenge however, I knew I had to participate.

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

This bread is one that I've cobbled together from various recipes (starting with a recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook) over the years, completely reworking the assembly to the point that I think it's perfect. Your mileage may vary, but I encourage you to incorporate some of these techniques in your quick bread making. They've given me tender, delicious quick breads for many years now.
  • MEP, or mise en place, is critical. Have all of your ingredients ready, including chopping, measuring, melting, heating, etc.
  • Flavors and add ins are critical, because without them, you've made a block of cake in a loaf pan with bits of things every slice or so.
  • DON'T OVERMIX. Really. My technique (I've never seen it in another recipe) is to add your mix ins when your dry ingredients are about half way mixed into the wet ingredients. This way, you don't over mix while you're trying to incorporate the mix ins. Quick bread batter quickly (no pun intended) starts to stiffen the more you mix it, making it harder to thoroughly combine the mix ins.
  • Also to address the mix ins, I mix mine together in a bowl before adding them to the recipe. Again, this makes it easier to have a homogenous loaf instead of one where all the nuts are in one half and the fruit in another.
  • Texture. I address this in a couple of ways. If I'm using a wet fruit, I let it drain on a dish towel before adding it. I try to use a variety of mix ins, including nuts or poppy seeds or oats or something to provide an interesting crunch to break up the monotony of the bread.
  • Short on time? Muffins. A muffin is a mini quick bread.
  • Plan ahead. If you want muffins for your Saturday breakfast, you can make the batter Tuesday night and freeze (well wrapped, of course) in the muffin tin. Set the muffin pan on the counter while you preheat your oven the day you plan to bake. Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.
  • I use my food processor for this bread because there's a lot of chopping, and I find frozen cranberries to be the most frustrating thing to chop by far. In this recipe I start with the nuts (if I'm using nuts), then go to the cranberries and finally the dried fruit. No need to wipe out the bowl.
  • Think outside the box, er, recipe. Chopped crystalized ginger goes so well with many fruits (think lemon, orange, cranberry, banana, etc.) Likewise, chocolate will play well with many fruits (orange, raspberry, strawberry, apricot, etc.) 
Cranberry Orange Apricot Bread
Printer-friendly recipe

2 cups/280 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/100 grams sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup/60 grams walnuts
11/4 cups/138 grams cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup/75 grams dried apricots
2/3 cup fresh orange juice (I've used store-bought, and substituted POG)
2 eggs
3 tbsp/42 grams unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp grated orange zest

Grease or coat an 8 x 4½ x 3 inch loaf pan with baking spray. Place oven rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Weigh or measure the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl, whisk until combined, make a well in the center and set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the walnuts until coarsely chopped, and empty walnuts into a medium mixing bowl. Repeat with the cranberries, then the apricots, pulsing each individually until coarsely chopped and them transferring to the mixing bowls with the walnuts. Stir the chopped ingredients until they are equally distributed.

In a small mixing bowl or 2 cup measuring cup, add the orange juice, eggs and melted butter, then zest the orange into the wet mixture and combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and with a spatula, fold them together until about halfway incorporated, then add the nut and fruit mixture, folding just until combined. Make sure you're getting to the bottom of the bowl with your spatula so you don't have dry pockets of flour.

Transfer batter to the pan and bake on the center rack of the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan and transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Wrap in plastic wrap and store for a day or two before serving (I've never done this because it smells too good when it comes out of the oven!)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Classic Brownies

If you've ever picked up a copy of Baking From My Home to Yours, you may have noticed that there are a lot of brownie recipes. To me, a chocolate and brownie lover, that's very endearing. Astonishingly, when I was going over the list of recipes I have yet to make from the book, there were a couple of brownie recipes I missed from when the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers were baking their way through the book.

These brownies are called "Classic" by Dorie because they are the standard brownie with walnuts that you may remember from your childhood, except they don't come from a box. I doubled the recipe because I was taking them to work. They were so easy and I think I actually preferred them to my go-to recipe (you can find it here). I might have to make them again and test them side by side to make up my mind.

I normally put the nuts on my brownies so they toast in the over rather than getting soggy, but went with the classic and put the nuts in the brownies. I do prefer the nuts on top, so I'll probably do it that way in the future.

I found them to be a little bit crumbly, but moist and incredibly chocolatey. Definitely a repeater.

Classic Brownies - adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly version

5 tablespoons/2 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 5 pieces
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional, but really good)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (according to taste - I used 1/2 teaspoon)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper, or spray with baking spray.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the butter and chocolates to the bowl and stir occasionally until the ingredients are just melted - you don't want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

With a whisk, stir in the sugar. Don't be concerned when your smooth mixture turns grainy. One by one, whisk in the eggs. Add the vanilla and give the ingredients a vigorous whisking (this really changes the texture a lot) before gently stirring the espresso, if you're using it.  Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the salt and flour; stirring only until incorporated, then fold in the chopped walnuts.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the spatula. (don't skip this part as I did or your brownies will be bumpy and uneven).

Bake the brownies for 30 to 33 minutes, or until the top is dull and a thin knife inserted into the center come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the brownies to room temperature.

When the brownies are completely cool, turn out onto a rack, remove the parchment and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Almost-Fudge Gateau

Flourless and near-flourless chocolate cake recipes are a dime a dozen. I've made quite a few, and they inevitably have the texture of a candy bar.

This cake, the latest in my effort to complete all the recipes from Baking From My Home to Yours, is different. It ingeniously uses beaten egg whites to lighten the batter, which makes it more cakey and less chocolate bar-like.

You can easily get away with not doing the glaze, but it's so dramatic, delicious and easy that I encourage you to go for it.

Almost-Fudge Gateau - adapted from Dorie Greenspan BFMHTY
Printer-friendly recipe
5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coursely chopped
1 cup sugar
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 Tablespoons coffee or water
1/3 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan with cooking spray, line the bottom with parchment paper, and spray the paper and sides of the pan with butter/flour baking spray. Place the pan on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof howl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar, butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the sugar may be grainy and that’s fine. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set aside to sit for three minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold firm but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the batter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you’ll think it’s done, but give it a few minutes more and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn’t shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Carefully release the side of the pan and remove it, then turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature, right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

For the Glaze
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you’ll be grazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven- the chocolate should be just melted and warm, but not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the tip with a long metal icing spatula. Don’t worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake’ it will just add to its charm. allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you’re impatient, slip the cake into the fridge for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gently heat from a hairdryer.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I've been enjoying discovering cookies in Alice Medrich's most recent book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in Your-Mouth Cookies. I think the enjoyment I get has been heightened by meeting the author when she taught a class in the Bay area. She lives in the area, and she baked cookies for our class herself in her own oven.

That felt very special. It's been about 9 months since that demonstration, but I still love picking up the book and discovering new flavor combinations.

These cookies, though are a classic. Snickerdoodles are a favorite because they have cinnamon sugar coating on a sugar cookie, and they're pretty simple to make. I used Vietnamese cinnamon because of its spicy flavor, and I pressed the cinnamon sugar on to the cookie balls so that the cinnamon would really stick. It must have worked because these were flavorful, if a tad over baked. Watch them carefully and check two minutes before they are supposed to be done. If the edge resists a tiny bit when you nudge it with your finger but you can feel that the edge is the only part that's done, the cookies are perfect chewy cookies. If you like a crisper cookie, bake them a minute or two longer. You can find the recipe here.

Speaking of a crisp cookie, if you're wondering what the wide, flat cookie is, that's the shatteringly thin chocolate chip cookie. I'm not a thin and crispy fan, but these blew me away. Maybe they're next...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake

Behold, the brown sugar-apple cheesecake.

Had I known how good this cheesecake is four years ago when I bought Baking From My Home to Yours, I wouldn't have waited until now to make it.

I am not a cheesecake lover. Cheesecake strikes me as overly heavy and rich, and I'm just not a fan. Or at least I wasn't until I made my first Dorie cheesecake. Her technique involves beating the cream cheese for quite a long time, which makes it light (and eliminates the chunks I used to get). This recipe is a little more complicated, but worth it.

The batter was so yummy. The apples put off such a lovely juice when I sautéed them that I almost cried when I poured it down the sink without thinking. I wished I'd made toast and enjoyed every drop of that elixir. This cheesecake was insanely popular with my tasters at work.

Nancy and Margaret are also working at a feverish pace to get through the remaining recipes in Baking from My Home to Yours. You can find Nancy's post here and Margaret's here.

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake - adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly recipe

For the Crust
Scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling
1½ pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider (I used apple juice)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
¾ cup sour cream
⅓ cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner’s sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.

Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you’re using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they’ll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples:
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake:
Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center-if the center shimmies, that’s just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan’s latch and release and remove the sides.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Irish Brown Bread

It is not at all unusual for me to get excited about buying ingredients, put them in the pantry and promptly forget they're there. Such was the case when I ordered some specialty flours from King Arthur. One of them is KAF's wholemeal flour.

One day I came upon the flour and found this recipe on the back of the package. It couldn't be any easier or faster, and I found the crunch and flavor of the wheatmeal flour to be addictive. I didn't dust mine with flour because I don't like getting flour on my clothes while I'm munching on bread. I think you could add raisins and/or chopped walnuts and it would be stunning.

The finished loaves were crumbly, and the rough slices were perfect with soup or just spread with sweet butter. It wasn't a huge hit at work (no chocolate!), but I think that's more a function of this being a much plainer recipe than the ones I normally bring to work. I'll definitely make this recipe again. If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Black-and-White Chocolate Cake

If you have Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, maybe you've flipped by the photo of this cake and thought "gorgeous, I could never make that" as I have done so many times. But like everything else in this book, you (and I) can definitely make it.

Before we made the pineapple dacquoise for Tuesdays with Dorie, I had a very snobby attitude about white chocolate. It's not REAL chocolate, etc. But that dacquoise was so good that it started changing my mind about white chocolate, and then I saw this post on Paris Pâtisseries, and I realized that my snobbishness was not only unbecoming, but also factually incorrect.

This year has been the Year of Accepting I Don't LIKE Certain Things. This cake was the latest entrant into my list of things that I'm glad have fans, but which I no longer feel pangs of guilt for not having developed a liking of. It is a white layer cake with layers of chocolate mousse and white chocolate whipped cream. I mistakenly didn't buy enough white chocolate, so I decided not to stress about it and just left the sides of the cake bare. 

If you're a fan of white chocolate and want to try this cake (you can find the recipe here), I have a few suggestions:
  • The chocolate mousse is stabilized with corn starch and while that's great for creating a mousse that is stable when you slice the cake, it totally ruined the mouthfeel for me.
  • Making the cake mocha would really perk it up. I would add 1-2 teaspoons of expresso powder to the butter when you're creaming it for a yummy coffee flavored layer cake.
  • I left my cake layers in the oven a minute too long, and it was dry as a result. To help protect me if I were to do that again, I might swap out 1-2 tablespoons of oil for an equal amount of the butter as my friend Hanaa of Hanaa's Kitchen does.
  • The reviews I read of this recipe indicated that there wasn't enough of the white chocolate whipped cream, so I would probably increase the recipe by half.
  • Don't overbeat your whipping cream when making the white chocolate whipped cream. I stopped the mixer (I used my hand mixer so I wouldn't be tempted to walk away) when it barely held a peak and it was fine.
  • Let the white chocolate cool completely before mixing in the whipped cream, and monitor the mixture carefully when mixing it. Again, no walking away.
  • Make sure you cover your cake in the fridge. I was lazy and didn't, and the chocolate mousse CRACKED. Ugh.
In my goal to complete something, anything in my life, I am completing all the recipes in BFMHTY that were made before I joined the group or I skipped for one reason or another. Nancy at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs had the idea of posting our make ups in the weeks corresponding to the weeks the group originally made the recipe.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Baking with Julia - White Loaves

This is the first recipe in Tuesdays with Dorie's new book. We'll be baking from Baking with Julia: Savoring the Joys of Baking with America's Best Bakers (and I thought Baking From My Home to Yours was a long title). Baking with Julia will be known as BwJ, and we'll still call Tuesdays with Dorie TWD. Now that we're all straight on the acronyms, let's get started with the book and the bread.

TWD will be baking and posting from Baking with Julia twice per month. I will most likely pick one of those two recipes and post once per month. I'm already feeling a virus/vertigo/broken bone/cold/flu/amnesia coming on and it will probably strike me the week the group makes the Martha Stewart wedding cake, whenever that will be.

Our hosts this month are Laurie (of slush) and Jules (of Someone's in the Kitchen) I've made this bread twice. The first time I substituted 1/3 white whole wheat flour, and the loaf was delicious. It took longer to rise, but it was great. The second time, I made it with all white flour and it was also good.

Fortunately, my mixer is a big KitchenAid and it didn't have a problem handling the dough for this one (though if you're listening KitchenAid, I would LOVE an 8 quart stand mixer). It passed the windowpane test after about 8 minutes. Both times, I tried to retard the formed loaves in the fridge, but it was so enthusiastic that I had to change my plans both times and bake it immediately.

In the past, I've had a problem over proofing my breads, sometimes getting huge air bubbles with lackluster oven spring, so I was more careful to follow Dorie's excellent instructions for this recipe. I was rewarded with nice loaves that were good warm with jam, good at room temperature in sandwiches, and good several days later as toast. I'm not a huge fan of all-white flour breads, so I probably won't make this one all that much, preferring to stick to my transitional riff on Dan Lepard's simple milk loaf (you can find that recipe here), or my interpretation of maple oat loaf using his three knead method (recipe here).

If you'd like the recipe for this bread, you can find it on Jules's post. And you can find the other BwJ bakers' loaves here.

Programming note: This week's TWD make up from BFMHTY will run tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chocolate Mocha Inside-Out Cake

More years ago than I care to admit, there was a show on public television called Cooking at the Academy. On one episode, the chef made a cake that made my jaw drop. It was two different flavors of cake layered with mocha and chocolate buttercream, but the surprise came when they cut a slice. I HAD to make that cake!

Back in the early 90's, I baked but still had a lot to learn, only I didn't realize it. Ah, youth. I made the cake for a co-worker's bridal shower and it was a huge hit. It's a bit labor-intensive so I've only made it a handful of times but it always commands the attention of my guests, and devout bakers are struck by the inside cross section and are similarly driven to make it themselves. If you make it, and I hope you will because it's delicious, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Give yourself a good solid day to make the cake. There are lots of steps that require letting the cake chill or the buttercream soften, not to mention the quality time you'll be spending with your mixer. If you need it for a special event, you can make it the day before and refrigerate it overnight. Just let it come to room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving (depending on the season and temperature in your house).
  • Before you start making the cake, fill your sink with hot, sudsy water. This will make the clean up much easier. When you finish with a bowl, beater, or measuring cup, just set it in the sink.
  • Almond paste that's old can be rock-like and that's hard to blend in with the cake batter. I've never done this but if you want the best results, I suggest you investigate making your own almond paste. Failing that, beat the almond paste-egg white mixture in your stand mixer fitted with a beater blade (the paddle with the spatula-like scraper) until smooth. I find it very difficult to do this by hand, and every time I make the cake, I end up with chunks of almond paste that I don't see until the layers are baked.
  • When the recipe calls for dividing the batter between the cake pans, I weigh the batter using my spare mixing bowl to tare (set to zero) the scale, then I weigh the bowl that has the cake batter in it. I divide the weight in half and write it down. Then I place one of the prepared cake pans on the scale, tare it, then measure a little less than half of the batter into the pan as directed. I'm not good at eyeballing batters and this method keeps me out of trouble.
  • I don't have an espresso maker, so I ask the barista at my neighborhood coffee shop how many ounces are in a shot, then I order that many shots. I get the shots for the buttercream in one cup and the shots for the brushing liquid in the other. Wasteful I know but the clean up from making this cake is daunting, kinda like running a marathon and then walking two hours to get home.
  • No matter how tempted you are, don't substitute butter for the margarine. I have tried on at least three occasions and my mocha buttercream broke all three times. Only when I made a note in the cookbook did I stop making this mistake.
  • If you don't have 10" cake pans, buy some. Seriously, this is the cake of a lifetime and it's worth the investment. If that just isn't in your budget with the other supplies you'll need, use your 9" pans. Any smaller and I'm afraid your crater will be wonky and the cake won't look right when you slice it.
  • The cookbook says to put the rest of your mocha buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a #4 plain tip and pipe the buttercream in a circular fashion on top of the cake, starting in the middle and working your way to the edge. It looked lovely when he did it, but he's a professional chef-instructor and I'm a piping failure. I've never done it for two reasons: One, I've never had enough extra mocha buttercream and two, the cake has enough buttercream already. Any more and it would just be too rich for most people.
  • To reinforce this point, more is not better with this cake. You want to brush on the espresso mixture sparingly, enough dampen the layer to get the flavor but you definitely don't want to make the cake wet. Same with the buttercream: more is not better. More is too much. Besides, it's SO much better to take that last layer and your extra buttercream and a biscuit cutter or sharp knife and make your own cake creation with it. Consider that dinner the night you're making the cake. If a friend helps, you can eat your plated desserts you make with the scraps and get very excited about cutting the cake later. It also helps to fuel up before the clean up.
  • I like to be nonchalant when I cut this cake so I try not to build up people's expectations. I mean, it would be awful to get them all riled up and then I cut it and it looks like a cubist Picasso painting inside. The first time especially, let them be surprised. Their surprise is better than the enjoyment you'll get from trying to explain it, plus it's almost impossible to explain without pictures.
  • I recorded the show on VHS when it was on, but I seriously worry about the quality and longevity of VHS tapes. Amazon has the episode on VHS, and I think I'm going to buy it and then have it converted to a DVD. I wish I had a video clip of the part where you cut out the cone and make the crater because it does help to see how it is done.

Chocolate Mocha Inside-Out Cake - adapted from Cooking at the Academy
Printer-friendly recipe
Sponge cakes
2 egg whites
10 ounces almond paste
12 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups/10 ounces granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups/8 ounces cake flour, sifted
2/3 cup/1 ounce natural (not Dutch process) cocoa powder

1 pound unsalted butter, softened
5 ounces margarine, softened (don't substitute butter)
1 cup egg whites (from 7 or 8 eggs)
1 pound sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces melted dark chocolate
1/2 cup brewed espresso (not instant), cooled

For Assembly
1/4 cup brewed espresso, cooled
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
Dark chocolate shavings

2 10" cake pans
Parchment paper rounds
Cardboard cake rounds

Prepare the spongecakes:
Mash the almond paste with the back of a spoon to break it apart and get out the lumps (see note above). Mix in the two egg whites and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two 10" cake pans with parchment rounds and set aside.

Place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl on stand mixer and add 1/2 cup of the sugar. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until the egg yolks are pale yellow and the mixture falls in a ribbon if the beater is lifted, at least 5 and preferably 10 minutes. Add the vanilla.

Gently stir the yolks into the almond paste with a spatula and set aside.

In another mixing bowl, whip the egg whites on medium-high with the whisk attachment until they foam, then slowly add the rest of the sugar. Beat just until the egg whites form stiff peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the almond paste mixture. Gently fold in the flour with a spatula, being careful not to deflate the egg whites.

Pour a little less than half of the mixture in one of the prepared cake pans, smooth the top and set aside.

Sift the cocoa powder into the remaining batter and fold in to combine - don't overmix! Put the remaining batter in the second cake pan and smooth the top. Place both layers in the preheated oven and bake 23-25 minutes, until tops spring bake when touched. Remove layers from oven and cool completely on a rack.

When cool, run a thin, sharp knife around the edge of each cake layer and invert onto a rack. Peel off parchment paper and invert again (so top of layer is up).

Prepare the buttercream:
Beat together the the butter and margarine in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl and place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly for about 3 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved. Be careful not to cook the egg whites!

Remove the bowl from the pan and place it on a stand mixer fitter with the whisk attachment and whip until the mixture has cooled considerably and has formed stiff peaks. Lower the speed of the mixer and add the vanilla extract. With the mixer still on low, gradually add the butter mixture and whip until combined.

Divide the buttercream (you'll have about 6 cups total) into two bowls. Add the melted chocolate to one bowl and stir with a spatula to combine, and add the 1/2 cup expresso to the other bowl, similarly using a spatula to combine. Set both bowls aside.

To assemble the cake (the fun part):
Cut the almond sponge into three even layers. Reserve the top layer for another use (you'll only need two almond layers). Cut the chocolate sponge into three even layers.

Combine the 1/4 cup espresso and water in a small bowl. Place one of the chocolate layers, cut side up, on a cardboard cake round. Using a pastry brush, lightly moisten the layer with the expresso mixture. Spread a layer of mocha-flavored buttercream and shave it down to about 1/4" thick, bringing it to the edge of the layer.

Place an almond layer on top of the mocha buttercream. Moisten the almond layer with the espresso mixture, then spread a layer of the mocha buttercream and shave it down to about 1/4" thick, bringing it to the edge of the layer.

Repeat with another chocolate layer, brushing the chocolate layer with the espresso mixture and adding the buttercream and then ending with an almond layer on top. Don't brush the almond layer or top it with buttercream. You will have one chocolate layer left. Chill the cake for 15 minutes to set the buttercream.

To cut the cake, dip a sharp, thin knife (I find a boning knife works better than the serrated knife that the recipe calls for) in hot water and wipe dry. Holding the knife at approximately a 30 degree angle approximately 3/4" in from the edge of the cake, carefully and gently cut a cone-shaped section from the center of the cake, about 8" wide at the top and and 2" wide at the bottom (or "tip"). Think of it as the crater of a volcano. Wipe your knife clean. Place your hand flat on the top of the cone-shaped wedge and using the knife or an icing spatula, remove the wedge and invert it onto your hand. Place the cone-shaped wedge, flat side down, on a cardboard cake round or a plate lined with parchment paper and set it aside.

It's kind of wonky but here's the cone for this one
Working inside the "crater," spread a layer of chocolate buttercream, about 1/4" thick, lining the inside of the crater.

Place the reserved chocolate sponge layer on top of the cake (almost like putting a roof on top of the crater).

Place a cardboard cake round on top and invert the cake so the new chocolate layer is now on the bottom and the first almond layer is on the top.

Cover the cake and set it aside (not in the refrigerator) to let the buttercream soften in between the layers.

Now, reconstruct the crater. To do this, gently press on the center of the top of the cake, gently pushing the inverted crater down to meet the bottom layer. In this new crater, spread a layer of chocolate buttercream all the way around and to the edge, making sure the buttercream is about 1/4" thick. The crater won't seem as deep or as sharp around the edges, and that's OK.

Still wonky, but the buttercream will help hide the flaws
Invert the cone-shaped wedge and set it, pointy side down, flat side up, in the crater, and gently press it into place (if needed). Using a chef's knife, trim the sides of the cake to the original shape (in the event reconstructing the cake has made bits stick out, you can trim it a little to make it round again).

Spread the remaining chocolate buttercream on the top and sides of the cake. Press the toasted almonds around the side of the cake. Top the cake with dark chocolate shavings if desired.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed. Set out at room temperature 20-30 minutes before serving.