April 8, 2012

One year here...

I started this little blog one year ago today!  Until then, I had only half-jokingly thrown the idea around - mainly because I'm obsessed with food and was looking for an excuse to do more baking - but then I actually went ahead and did it!  I'm glad I did and and here we are a year later. 
Happy One-Year Anniversary, Playing with Flour!
What it's meant... For me, having this blog has literally meant lots of trips to the grocery store to refill my stash of chocolates, butter, flour, sugar, and extracts.  But more importantly, it's been a creative outlet and a chance to indulge in a fun hobby.  I find working with chocolate and stirring a batter together very peaceful and relaxing.  The sweet (often, chocolaty) smells wafting out of the oven is my kind of aromatherapy.  And the best part is making something from scratch, possibly discovering something delicious, and getting to share it my family and friends.  They become memories.

The way I look at it... This is my open journal.  I love to cook/bake, and I love to write about food!  And of course, I love to eat.  Aside from family and maybe a handful of others, I generally figure it's an audience of one here!  I love looking back at the things I've made and reliving the occasion some of them conjure up.  I'm often in the kitchen using the recipes again and looking back at the steps.  But I have to say it's neat when I see that someone from another continent stumbled onto this space.  I also get a kick out of seeing what kind of searches people (just like me) do when they're looking for a recipe and then maybe end up here.  Maybe my experience will encourage someone else to give a recipe that appeals to them a try. 

I've really learned a lot - from, say, how to make a soufflé to recreating a cake at home that I had at a wonderful restaurant so we can relive a wonderful memory.  It's also been about seeing if that recipe really is as good as they say, and trying to discover something tasty to share with my family - then writing down my impressions.  And speaking of family, I thank my husband for his boundless enthusiasm and encouragement.  When I tell him that I want to make something (which is very often), instead of saying "again?" like maybe I would if I were him, he says "I can't wait!"  I know we're talking mainly about eating cookies and cake - which isn't exactly a great distress - but everything gets old!  And of course, I've always been able to depend on the little guy as the ultimate chocolate dessert taste-tester and fan. 
As satisfying as dessert is, I try to limit my baking to small batches and to sharing when possible.  I've really enjoyed the baking, taste-testing, and sharing that's gone on in the last year but I can't help but think that I'll have to slow down at some point!  (My family and friends are probably afraid of how many calories I'm bringing their way when they see me.)  There is so much deliciousness to explore but I want to make sure I have time to enjoy old favorites on top of discovering new ones.  I once read a blogger say that she never repeats a recipe.  I was momentarily stunned because I could never give up making our family favorites but when I think about it, I get it.  With so many recipes to test and spin off of, you have to make time and space for the discovery.  It's probably not the route I'll take but right now, I still can't help looking through a baking cookbook and seeing at least 2-3 recipes I want to jump up and make right away.

Discoveries...I tried many recipes in the last year.  There were very few duds (thankfully) and some not-so-goods, but many delicious discoveries that have become favorites.  I couldn't possibly pick one favorite - there are too many that I loved and sometimes you're in the mood for different things.  But I'd have to say that discovering how to make tri-color cookies has been a highlight of the year; they are too delicious and I'm still amazed I can make them myself!  I also think about successfully (relatively speaking) tackling macarons - and how much money I save making them at home!  I love to make that mango sago soup and seeing the look of rapture on my husband's face.  And I also can't stop craving that simple but oh-so-good chiffon cake.  Plus, when it comes to chocolate, I'm rarely disappointed whether it comes in the form of a cakecookie, or loaf.  The list goes on and on; it's really amazing how a handful of ingredients can be spun into so many delicious forms.

A celebration cake!  And finally...it wouldn't be a proper "birthday" or anniversary celebration without a cake.  This is one of those celebration cakes - a decadent cake that's meant for sharing with a crowd.  It's a chocolate-hazelnut meringue cake that I've had my eye on for some time.  The recipe comes from the ever reliable Martha Stewart and there's a beautiful version of it on Tartlette that I also consulted.  I was a little nervous about making the cake because I'm not quite sure I fully understand or have mastered the art of meringues (and to top it all off, I made it on a misty, wet day).  I had to try since it's been on my list for so long and this cake embodies so much of what I love.  And here was the perfect special occasion for it.

We have first a base layer of flourless chocolate cake.  It's quite intense and deep in bittersweet chocolate flavor.  Secondly, a meringue layer provides a crisp yet soft and slightly chewy texture that I love (think macarons) as a contrast to the cake beneath.  Lastly, it also incorporates my love of nuts in desserts, with chopped toasted hazelnuts, plus bits of  bittersweet chocolate, folded within the meringue.  The meringue layer turned out to be my favorite part of the cake!

There's a lot of "love" in this cake - it's a hefty piece of work with a total pound of bittersweet chocolate, a cup of toasted hazelnuts, and a good dose of butter involved.  I believe in treats in moderation and I say this is a cake meant for sharing and I happily shared this at a gathering with my family.  I cut small slices and got a good twelve servings out of it.  This cake holds quite well for several days so leftovers are a good thing.  I divvied up what remained so we could all stow a bit away to enjoy another day.  The cake seemed to get darker and fudgier - almost more chocolaty - after refrigerating while the meringue stayed crisp yet a bit soft in the center...in other words, very good.  Just remove it from the fridge a bit in advance to allow it to come to room temperature before eating.
Ready for a sweet gathering!  (I did not make the macarons pictured though...)

The flourless chocolate cake

The base layer of this cake is the flourless chocolate cake.  It is a dense flourless chocolate cakes that holds up well beneath the meringue layer that goes on top.

To start the batter, I beat 10 tablespoons of room temperature butter with 3/4 cups brown sugar until it's light and pale.  Then, add six egg yolks, one at a time, until fully incorporated.  Once that is done, add 12 ounces of cooled melted bittersweet chocolate, a bit of vanilla and a pinch of salt. 
Mix until combined and it looks like this...
Next comes the egg whites that need to be whipped and folded into the chocolate base just made.  I have to admit I'm always a little nervous about whipping egg whites without any sugar to sort of stabilize the whole thing.  In this case, whip the egg whites all by themselves until soft peaks.  The key is soft peaks - when you whip whites without sugar, soft peaks is as far as you'll go.  Beyond that, it just breaks and clumps - something we seriously want to avoid. 
I think I got the whites just where I want them.  Fold a third into the chocolate-butter mixture first.  Then gently fold in the rest.  The mixture is quite thick and dense so you need to patiently work the whites in.  When it's done, I poured the batter into a buttered springform pan to bake halfway - about 20-25 minutes before taking it out of the oven and adding the meringue layer on top.

Hazelnut-chocolate meringue

It was a misty, rainy day when I worked on this cake so I decided to use a little cream of tartar as "insurance" to make sure the egg whites whipped up properly.  I think it helped (along with plenty of sugar, which also gives you more leeway) because the meringue came together beautifully. 

Put 4 egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar into a clean mixing bowl with the whisk attachment on your mixer.  Start whipping on high speed and when the whites begin to look frothy, start adding the sugar slowly.  Continue beating until it reaches stiff peaks.  It will be glossy and stiff.
Add the toasted hazelnuts and chopped chocolate that's been tossed with a tablespoon of cornstarch into the meringue and fold it in. 

Combining the two

Remove the cake from the oven around the 20-25 minute mark.  I wanted to avoid over-cooking the cake since there's another 25-30 minutes of bake time with the meringue.  However, this was a balancing act since I also didn't want the base under-cooked at the end which makes a mess of cutting.  When I took the cake out of the oven at the half-way mark, it was set but a little bit wobbly (when moved) in the center.  Pile the meringue over the top of the hot cake.
Take a large offset spatula and spread the meringue evenly over the top.  Try not to work it too much so the meringue doesn't deflate.  Bake for another 25-30 minutes until the meringue topping is lightly browned and dry/crisp.
When all is set and done, you have a seriously hefty cake that's ready for a group.  What's special and unusual about this cake is that meringue layer.  Those who enjoy hazelnuts (like me!) will love the taste and combination of the crispy yet soft texture with the meringue.  The toasted hazelnuts adds even more chewiness and makes for a very pleasant surprise along with the bits of bittersweet chocolate. 
And being the chocoholic that I am, I can't complain about the chocolate cake base.  Everything tastes better with some chocolate cake!  This one is very dark...a bit more dense than I first expected in a flourless chocolate cake but holds up well against the meringue. 

Helene from Tartlette mentioned this cake tastes really good the day after and I totally agree.  Store it in the refrigerator and I loved the way the cake gets darker, fudgier and almost more chocolaty!  I placed some leftover slices in the fridge but let it sit out to reach room temperature before eating again.  The meringue stays completely intact and the cake was really good, as I mentioned.


Chocolate-Hazelnut Meringue Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart and with lots of help from Tartlette

- Makes one 9-inch cake, or 10 to 12 servings -

For the cake layer:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
6 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the meringue layer:
4 ounces (1 cup) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into small chunks
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped into small chunks
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional; not necessary but think of it as "insurance")
3/4 cup sugar

The cake layer:

Melt the 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate over a double boiler, with the espresso powder (if using).  Set aside to cool. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9-by-3 inch springform pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and brown sugar until pale and smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl as necessary.  Add the melted chocolate, vanilla extract, and salt, beating until combined.  Unless you have an extra mixing bowl, clean the bowl thoroughly for the next step.

In a clean mixing bowl fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the 6 egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.  (Avoid over-whipping, which can be easy; since there is no sugar added to the whites, you will only reach soft peaks before it starts to clump.)  Fold 1/3 of the whites into the chocolate mixture.  Then fold in the remaining egg whites and pour batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.

The meringue:

Combine the chopped chocolate and toasted hazelnuts with the cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.  Place the 4 remaining egg whites, along with cream of tartar (if using) into a clean mixer bowl and whip (using the whisk attachment) on high speed until frothy.  With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar and continue beating until stiff, glossy peaks form.  Fold in the chocolate-hazelnut mixture.


Remove the cake from the oven.  Transfer the meringue onto the cake (it is fine to add it to the hot cake) and spread evenly over the cake using a large offset spatula.  Spread the meringue with as few strokes as possible so as not to deflate the meringue.  Return the cake to the oven and bake for another 25-30 minutes, until the meringue is lightly brown and crisp. 

Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Then run a knife around the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan.  Let cool for about 20 minutes before serving.  

You can store the cake or leftovers in the refrigerator for about 3 days.  Let it come to room temperature before serving.



    Yeah!! One year. I've been following your blog for a little while now, and I think your doing a wonderful job. You make some of the most yummie looking baked/dessert goods. Keep-up the great work.

    Arlene, from:

  2. congratulations you should start a bakery everything looks so good.

  3. Thank you, Arlene and Alan, for your kind comments!

  4. If I were to take the hazelnuts out of the meringue, should I make any other changes? (increase the chopped chocolate? less cornflour?) - or do you reckon it'd be fine? Thanks in advance, looking forward to making this!

    1. I would simply omit it. Good luck.

    2. I made this yesterday - for my 21st, today!

      I didn't quite follow your advice (sorry!), since I wanted a bit less meringue. For people in the future who might read this... I used: 3 egg whites, 110g granulated sugar, 115g chocolate (roughly chopped), 1 tsp cornstarch, a pinch of cream of tartar. Everything else I followed the measurements exactly. Baked cake for ~23 minutes, and then with meringue for a further 30 minutes. Outcome? Incredible. So chocolatey I died like 20 times eating a slice but ... I'd willingly die again.

      Thanks for the recipe.



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