Friday, June 19, 2020

Moist chocolate cake with oil

I had a serious craving for chocolate cake recently. I wanted one that was moist and dark, but also one where I didn't have to cream a lot of chilly butter with sugar. (I hate my Cuisineart 5-speed electric beater; it has no real slow setting and just tosses dry ingredients right out of the bowl - any recommendations?). I didn't feel like fluffing butter by hand, either. I was feeling lazy.

This chocolate oil cake version is derived from one on the Hershey's website. I modified it heavily: Less sugar, less salt, more flour, much lower baking time, and of course, the wild ingredients.

The result is a cake that is rich, dark, and delectably moist. It is both simple and outstanding. 

Photo: Irene Khin, Saffron 59 Catering

It's also easy to carry on picnics, presliced, and easily shared. 

Baked serviceberries add a hint of marzipan to the cake. And if you use the mahlab variation, instead, the flavor will be harder to define - more like marzipan and bitter almonds, but wonderful with chocolate.

I have only used a 12-cup bundt pan for the cake. You will have to adjust the baking time if you are using one regular baking pan (more baking time) or two pans for a layer cake (less baking time).

Tip: mixing cocoa with flour for dusting the pan means you won't have a weird white coating when you turn out your nice, dark cake.

Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup avocado oil (substitute other vegetable oil)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup serviceberries (or small blueberries)


1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons flour for pan


Instead of the fruit, add 1 teaspoon mahlab

Preheat the oven to 350'F.

For the pan: Butter the bundt pan and dust it well with a mixture of the flour and cocoa mixture. Shake any excess out.

For the cake: In a large bowl combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (If using mahlab, add it now.)

In another bowl beat together the eggs, milk and avocado oil.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing well. Add the boiling water. Mix until the batter is smooth (it will be very thin, don't panic).

Pour half the batter into the prepared pan, scatter the serviceberries evenly across it, and pour in the rest.

Bake for 35 minutes until the surface of the cake springs back to the touch, or an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Then invert carefully and allow to continue cooling on a rack.

Tuck in!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Kale gnudi with mugwort brown butter

These tender dumplings, fragrant with lemon zest and sweet with heaps of slightly charred kale, are dressed with nutty brown butter and crisp spring mugwort. They are rustic and deeply delicious.

Why gnudi? Because of their high ricotta content, luscious gnudi are much softer (er, less rubbery?) than flour-rich gnocchi. And while blackened kale is uniquely sweet you can use any leafy green as a base (but blanched and squeezed dry - the meaty kale is neither blanched nor squeezed), bearing in mind that many leaves, like spinach, lose more volume than kale when cooked.

(See Variations below, for those weights and other spice and herb options.)

Tips: Use as little flour as you can get away with in the dusting process – it forms the lightest of skins, and that is all you need. The gnudi can be made a day ahead and kept cold (covered) in the fridge. Also, gnudi cook fast and do not like to be kept waiting once ready, so have the brown butter ready to go the minute they are all plated.

Gnudi: Makes about 36

16 oz washed kale
15 oz ricotta
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon microplaned lemon zest
½ cup microplaned parmesan
¼ teaspoon salt plus a large pinch
Black pepper to taste
1 large egg
Flour for dusting, about ½ cup or less

Mugwort Brown Butter:

4 tablespoons butter
20 tender mugwort tips or single leaves

To serve:

¼ cup microplaned parmesan
2 teaspoons urfa biber (or black pepper)


1. Substitute 1.5 lbs spinach, garlic mustard, nettles, radish or turnip tops for the kale. Blanch in boiling water, shock in cold and squeeze dry before puréeing.
2. Substitute ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg for the lemon zest
3. For the sauce: Substitute summer savory or sage for the mugwort.

For the gnudi: Fill a large, lidded pot with an inch of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Pile the kale leaves in and cover. Steam until they lose volume and start to soften. Turn them once or twice. Continue cooking over high heat as they lose their vivid color. As the water dries up their sugars begin to darken the bottom of the pot. Turn a couple of times so more of the leaves blacken slightly at the edges and turn a little crisp. The blackening makes them sweet. When they threaten to really stick to the pot, turn them out into a strainer set over a bowl to cool.

Transfer the kale to a food processor and pulse until very smooth. Turn the purée into a mixing bowl and add all the other gnudi ingredients except the flour. Mix well. Taste for seasoning (unless you are worried about raw eggs and Salmonella). Add more salt or pepper. If you have the time, place the bowl in the fridge to chill the mixture for 30 minutes – it just makes it easier to handle.

Sprinkle flour evenly on a work surface. Using a spoon, scoop portions of the mixture onto the flour: I use a dessertspoonful to make gnudi about 1 ½ inches long. Shape the scooped mixture into a small log between your palms, denting the top to hold some warm butter, later. Lightly dip each side in flour. Place on a lightly floured plate while you make the rest. When one plate is full keep it chilled in the fridge while you work on the second batch.

Chill the shaped gnudi for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

To cook: Bring a large pot of water to the boil. (While it is heating start the brown butter sauce.) When the water is boiling drop the gnudi in gently one at a time, working in batches if necessary. They are done when they bob to the surface (they remind me of the barrels in Jaws). Use a perforated spoon to scoop each one out at once, resting the spoon briefly on a clean kitchen towel to absorb dripping water, before transferring to a warm waiting platter or individual plates. When they are all done, top quickly with a flurry of extra microplaned parmesan, black pepper or urfa biber, and the waiting, hot brown butter.

For the brown butter: Make this while the gnudi-water is coming to a boil. Melt the butter in a pan over medium high heat. When it foams add the mugwort leaves. Cook, tilting the pan so the butter runs over the leaves, until the butter begins to turn brown. Turn the heat off at once. Just before serving, heat the butter again briefly and spoon at once over the plated gnocchi.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Grenadilla Mousse

Whenever I visit Cape Town in summer I can't resist the grenadillas (passion fruit). Abundant, cheap, and tropically complex. There seems no reason why they should not be as abundant and affordable in the United States - but perversely they cost a fortune (a dollar or more, each). Grow your own if you live in a mild climate!

This tartly sweet, creamy mousse belongs on a dessert cart straight from the middle of the last century. It is old school and delicious.

I love to make this mousse perfectly smooth, but you could also leave the seeds in it, in which case skip the food processing part.

Use a single jelly mould for a large mousse, or individual moulds if you're being fancy and giving everyone their own.

Serves 8 - 10

20 grenadillas (yield is about 1 3/4 cups juice), chilled
3 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
3 tablespoons boiling water
750 ml (3 cups) whipping cream, chilled
150 grams (5.29 oz) sugar

Halve the grenadillas and scoop the pulp into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for about 15 seconds to separate the pulp from the seeds. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl and strain the pulp through the sieve, extracting as much juice as possible. Discard the seeds.

Pour about a quarter of the juice into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatine onto it, swooshing the juice around to cover and soak the granules. Stir to make sure there are no lumps. Add the 3 tablespoons of boiling water and stir again. When the mixture is perfectly smooth, whisk the gelatine-juice back into the rest of the juice.

In a large bowl whisk the cream until it thickens slightly. Add the sugar to the cream and continue whisking until the cream holds soft peaks.

Pour the grenadilla juice into the whipped cream, then fold rapidly using a spatula to blend the mixture well. When no bright yellow juice remains at the bottom of the bowl, pour it into your jelly mould/s (or a round bowl). Cover, and transfer to the fridge. Chill until it is set (about three hours, minimum).

To unmold, dip the mold for about 8 seconds in extremely hot water (too long and the outer layers will melt). Invert onto a flat serving dish and shake hard. You should hear a satisfying plop. If you don't, try running a hot knife around the edges of the mousse, and repeat. Chill until needed.

Serve with freshly cut grenadillas arranged around the edges of the pale mousse.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Old Fashioned Raisin Bars

It has been 11 - gasp - 11 years since I first posted this recipe. Because they are so good, I thought it was time to revisit these deliciously moist, spiced cookies. They satisfy every craving, and they taste of the holidays. They were my favorite childhood cookie.

You need:

5 1/2 oz (160 g) raisins or currants
1 cup (250 ml)  water
1/2 cup  (125 ml) vegetable oil
7 oz (200 g) sugar
1 lightly beaten large egg
 8 oz (220 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice*
1/4 teaspoon cloves*
2 1/2 oz (70 g) toasted, chopped pecans (I also use walnuts)

* Forager's alternative: skip the allspice and the cloves (keep the cinnamon) and use 2 teaspoons of ground spicebush (Lindera benzoin), instead.

Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Butter a 9 1/2 x 12-inch jelly roll sheet.

Combine the raisins or currants with the water in a small saucepan  and heat to boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the sugar and the egg (if it is still too hot the egg will scramble).

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir. Add the nuts.

At this point my mother's handwritten recipe says, "Pour into a greased Swiss roll tin." This is sweet. Why did we call them Swiss rolls? But we were fed freshly-made Swiss rolls, sugary on the outside, stuffed with apricot jam, for a special dessert. Those were in the days of sit-down lunches. Father in suit, home from chambers, children in school uniforms, home from school. Doris Day singing in the kitchen. Milk to drink, from a jug on the table. Milk.

It was white South Africa. Where the late 70's looked a lot like the American 50's.

Don't worry, it all fell apart, later. Not just the country - the illusion of the family idyll. We were both broken.

Back to the cookies!

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Loosen the edges and flip the sheet of cookies over onto a wire rack to cool.

When cool, frost with confectioners sugar mixed with lemon juice. This is important - the tartness provides a beautiful edge. After this icing has set, slice into squares.

Try not to eat them all at once. They are good for everything. Stress, sadness, loss, or an excess of anything.

And brilliant for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Thai Lime Marmalade

My trees' bounty of Thai limes this year made marmalade possible. It is delicious and set to perfection.

Not everyone grows or has access to Thai limes and they do have a unique flavor and fragrance. But this recipe will work for other sour citrus.

You can use any amount of fruit, as long as you stick to the formula below. It's a lot of sugar in the finished marmalade but it is by no means overwhelming - the lime's pith is bitter and needs balance. If you want to use less, begin with half the amount I recommend, stir to dissolve in the lime mixture (before boiling), then taste. If you like it, it will still set, but I think you may stick to my plan! For orange marmalade I’d suggest the same weight of sugar as the fruit's weight. And for grapefruit their weight plus half.

Note: If you do not soak citrus slices before cooking them with sugar the skin can turn hard. Soak the fruit.

Thai Lime Marmalade Formula:

Limes or lemons, weighed, then also measured out in cups after being sliced
Double the cup-amount of water
Double the fruit's weight in sugar

These were my amounts based on my indoor harvest:

13.3 oz (2 ¾ cups, sliced) Thai limes, sliced very thinly
5 ½ cups water
26.6 oz sugar

If you are using your own amount of fruit proceed as follows:

Weigh your limes, and make note of the weight. Slice the fruit very thinly, and pick out any seeds. Measure the fruit in cups. Place the sliced fruit and any escaped juice in a bowl with double the cup-amount of water. Leave to soak 24 hours.

Place the fruit and the soaking water (full of valuable pectin) in a pot large enough that the liquid comes no more than two-thirds of the way up, or it will boil over, later. Bring to a boil for a minute. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely (this is still helping to soften the skin).

When the mixture is cool again stir in double the fruit’s weight of sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Insert a sugar thermometer. Keep at a furious boil until the temperature reaches 220’F. Do not be tempted to give up at 118’F, or 119’F. The last few degrees seem to take forever. Be patient.

At 220'F turn the heat off immediately.

If you do not have a thermometer use the spoon test:

Dip a large wooden or metal spoon into the bubbling liquid and then hold it up sideways so the liquid tips out and the length of the spoon is parallel to the pot below. Droplets will at first just rush thinly from the middle of the spoon. As setting point approaches they slow down and when setting point is reached two to three drops form in a more sluggish row along the bottom of the spoon. When they meet in the middle you snatch that pot off the heat.

Off the heat the bubbles will subside. If any white foam or scum is on the surface scoop it off gently. Ladle the hot marmalade into sterilized jars. You can fill all the way but as it sets some of the fruit may rise and set towards the top with bottom just jelly. It still sets perfectly and tastes wonderful. But if you want to distribute the fruit more evenly, fill the jars in three stages, with about 5 minutes between each stage. This way the lower layers will set earlier, trapping their fruit. Don’t wait too long to complete the stages or the marmalade will set in the pan!

Secure the lids tightly.

Enjoy your toast!

'Long Nights' - a dark winter cocktail

Give the darkness its due. The sneak killer ingredient in this luscious cocktail is pomegranate molasses (a staple in my kitchen), which provides both color and the warm base note without being cloying.

‘Long Nights’

Makes 1 drink:

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce dry sherry
1 ounce Spicebush Cranberry Fizz
1 ounce pomegranate molasses

Combine all the ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain, and pour.

Applejack cocktail

Here is a winter-brown cocktail, the color of fallen oak leaves. It is delicious. I call it 'Dear George'. This is an easy mixed drink to make in quantity for a holiday party - instead of shaking, stir with ice.

Do you know applejack? It is an American brandy distilled from cider, and aged in old bourbon barrels. George Washington liked it, and probably made it.

For the Cranberry Spicebush Fizz (in the tall carafe, behind the drink), follow that link. Plan to make it one week before it is required.

Makes 1 drink:

2 ½ ounces applejack
2 ounces Spicebush Cranberry Fizz
5 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, and pour.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Spicebush Cranberry Ferment - A Holiday Mixer

This aromatically tart and sweet ferment has a strong spicebush presence.

Spicebush is the fruit of Lindera benzoin, native in the Northeast and also east of the Rockies. It grows naturally in the understory or on the edges of woodlands. The flavor and scent are reminiscent of orange zest, to me. I use spicebush more than any other wild flavor in my kitchen (consult Forage, Harvest, Feast to learn more).

I pair this cranberry-spicebush mixer (and this recipe is not in my book) with applejack, bourbon, whisky, dark rum, or Tequila reposado or añejo, and Lillet. Also sparkling wine (just a dash before topping with bubbly). It has a great affinity for apple ciders and apple syrups, citrus, ginger, and Earl Grey tea. Think hot toddies and low-alcohol mocktails, too: Mixed 50-50 with sparkling water it makes a zero octane drink.

And use it to deglaze a roasted carrot, duck or pork pan. It loves yams and pumpkin. And tropical fruit salads.

Compared with most of the flowers and fruits I use in fermenting, cranberries ferment slowly. I used to think it was because they were too well washed, so were rinsed of microbes. But it is probably because cranberries contain antimicrobial properties, which inhibit fermentation.  So I add some unpeeled apple slices to my mixture to help the yeasts along.

Start one week before you need it.

12 ounces cranberries, lightly crushed
½ an apple, cut up (cored but not peeled)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup freshly ground spicebush berries*
5 cups water

* Substitution: If you have fresh spicebush twigs from your own tree or a wild one, scratch them up to release more scent, then tie them in a bundle that fits in your jar. The bundle's cinched waist should be about a half-inch in diameter, for enough flavor to seep into the infusion.

Place the fruit in a clean jar. Add the spicebush and sugar, and top with water. Stir well (or screw the lid on and shake). To ferment, either leave the lid on loosely, or cover the jar with cheesecloth or a paper towel secured with elastic or string. Stir daily. Small bubbles rising are a sign of fermentation. It could take several days. After the bubbles have been active for at least a couple of days (and up to seven, but each ferment is different) I strain the fruit from the liquid twice: through a double mesh strain and a double folded, damp cheesecloth. The spicebush can clog up the straining, so use fresh or rinsed cheesecloth if the liquid stops passing through. Bottle the strained, amber liquid and keep in the refrigerator until needed.

If fermentation didn't take place (too cold, perhaps), don't worry - the flavor will still be very good. Give it a taste.

If you have not foraged your own spicebush fruit, buy dried spicebush (sold as Appalachian Allspice) for $3 per ounce or $27 per pound at Integration Acres. The quality is excellent.


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