Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with an Almond "Crust"

I dread packing. My heart is already beating faster than it should. I made a list so that I do not forget anything even though, knowing me, I will forget something. I have clothes and shoes and toiletries splayed on the floor. Oh goodness, shoes. I always bring more shoes than I need, but somehow I always convince myself that every pair is necessary.

I'm going on a trip if you haven't noticed. I'm going on a Euro-trip: London, Amsterdam, Lucerne, the Rhine Valley, Innsbruck (Austria), Italy, France. Whew, I'm exhausted already. I leave tomorrow and I will be gone for one month. Aside from my packing nerves, I am extremely excited. FOOD, beautiful architecture, new culture, history, language, people...

As a final baking hurrah before I depart from my kitchen for a month, I made a cake. Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with a Sliced Almond "Crust". The recipe is from David Lebovitz's newest cookbook. He was inspired to make the cake when Niloufer Ichaporia King came to work with him at Chez Panisse to prepare a traditional Parsi New Year's feast. Lebovitz claims that out of all the "authentic and wonderfully aromatic Indian food" he tasted, this cake was his favorite dish (granted, she enrobed the cake in a sheet of gold leaf...).

Cardamom is my favorite spice. I love it in everything from savory to sweet (cardamom ice cream is just divine!). The spice gives off a nice sweet, feminine, sophisticated vibe, which, well, I think fits my vibe. Oddly enough, at the same time, when I think of cardamom, I imagine some older men sitting around on a hot evening, smoking and having a few drinks...?

The cake calls for whole cardamom seeds. A friend brought me back some pods from Israel so I opened the pods and crushed the seeds using a mortar and pestle. Immediately I could smell the sweet spicy seeds. Just a rough crush will suffice.

The pistachios brighten up the batter with their nice green hue. The cake would be lovely served with some fresh apricots (or you could poach them in a little water, sugar, and wine).

Pistachio-Cardamom Cake with an Almond "Crust"

makes one 9-inch (23-cm) cake; 10-12 servings (**I used a springform pan and it worked fine)

from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert


2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted, it doesn't really matter here)
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cups sliced almonds, preferably unblanched


3/4 cup shelled unsalted pistachios
1/4 cup plus 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. To make the topping: melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 9-inch round cake pan set directly on the stovetop over low heat. Once melted, remove from the heat and let cool briefly. Sprinkle the 1 teaspoon sugar evenly over the melted butter, then add the almonds, tilting and shaking the pan to distribute them evenly. Set the pan aside.

3. To make the cake: in a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulverize the pistachios with the 1/4 cup flour until as finely ground as possible. Transfer to a small bowl.

4. Crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle or seal them inside a sturdy plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the crushed seeds to the pistachio mixture and stir to combine. Set aside.

5. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl by hand), beat together the 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar on medium speed until very light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until completely incorporated.

6. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir it into the butter-egg mixture. Stir in the pistachio mixture just until combined.

7. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan by dropping 4 or 5 mounds on top of the almonds. Carefully spread the batter into an even layer, trying not to disturb the almonds. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help it loosen from the pan. Invert the cake onto a serving plate. Let cool completely.

SERVING: This cake will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature, well wrapped. It can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes Big and Small with Assorted Frostings and Toppings

Above you can see the traveling cupcakes. I carefully placed the little frosted cakes into a nice tupperware and boarded an airplane from Los Angeles to San Francisco. 5 twenty-something men and myself successfully gobbled these up by the next day.

Chocolate cupcakes. VEGAN chocolate cupcakes (one would never know they were vegan, especially with all that buttery frosting on top!).

Peanut butter frosting.

Peanut butter frosting atop of a chocolate cupcake with:
  • crushed oreo cookie crumbs **NOTE: I used mini oreos
  • with chopped candies (chocolate covered espresso beans and peanut butter cups and m&m's...) **NOTE: Trader Joe's sells mini peanut butter cups which are perfect for these cupcakes
  • with chocolate sprinkles
  • with a swirl of Nutella spread
  • with a dollop of jam

Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting and rainbow sprinkles.

The cake part makes a LOT of cupcakes. I got 14 big ones and 24 babies (remember, the babies will take less time to bake...think 10-12 minutes instead of 20-25).
***NOTE: click on the links above for the recipes...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Buttermilk Pie With Warm Berry Sauce

Get ready. This pie is the real deal. It all begins with the crust, and WOW is this a crust. Butter + buttermilk +a little flour, sugar, salt.
Uh. Yeeeeaa. And it doesn't stop there...the filling entails more butter, more buttermilk, and a little bit of love. Drizzled (or in my case, slabbed on...) with a hearty tinge of berry sauce (heat jam + a bit of liquor), it all seems to good to be true.

Actually, I especially liked the pie the following day after it had been in the refrigerator all night; all of the flavor really got to settle in and it was nice and cold--it seemed more like a cheesecake this way.

Over the years, my math skills have gone down the drain, and I was never that great at geometry to begin with. One of the most difficult tasks for me now as a baker is cutting a tart or pie into even pieces. In a professional food setting, I would have to plate every slice of pie exactly the same size. Your average tart or pie would probably be cut into 9 slices. 9 is a tough number. I have to draw a diagram so that I remember how to cut. Finding the center is also very challenging for me. For tarts baked in a tart pan, I have also resorted to counting the number of ridges per slice (8-9 ridges equal one slice). Goodness, I have a headache now!

When I am in a more casual setting, I just let everyone slice for themselves
(or, if I am the one slicing, I just do a rough eyeball). I don't need anything fancy (In my family, we tear our bread loaves rather than slice; it's just more fun that way). There are always those who just want a little sliver of pie, and those who want a slice the size of my head, so I just stand back and let them do their thing.

Anyhoot, this pie is so rich that it feels so light. I'm kind of floating right now (or maybe I just have too much CA sunshine running through my veins). Either way, come on over for a slice of pie, it's my treat.

Buttermilk Pie with Warm Berry Sauce

recipe from Joythebaker.com

Buttermilk Pie Dough

2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup buttermilk, cold

Cut butter into 1 inch pieces and place in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes.

Sift together the flour and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Sifting eliminates lumps and aerates the mixture, making the dough tender and lighter. Add the partially frozen butter and the salt. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes, or until the butter is reduced to the size of broken walnut meats. Stop the machine and by hand pinch flat any large pieces of butter that remain.

Turn the mixer on low speed and add the buttermilk all at once. Mix until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds. The dough should be tacky, but not sticky, and still rather shaggy.

Remove the dough from the bowl and quickly form into a rough disk. Wrap in plastic. Try not to overwork the dough. Chill for at least 1 hour before rolling out. At this point the dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. For freezing roll the dough into sheets and wrap them in airtight plastic film first.

Roll the dough out into about 1/8th inch thickness. Transfer to a pie plate and stick in the freezer (or fridge) while you prepare the filling.

Buttermilk Filling

3 large eggs

1 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 stick melted butter, slightly cooled

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extrct

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

Beat eggs slightly. Mix sugar and flour well and add to the eggs. Mix until creamy. Add melted butter, mixing well. Add buttermilk and vanilla extract. Bake at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes to 1 hour (my pie took about 1 hour and 15 minutes) until the custard sets. Tip: the custard will still jiggle a bit in the oven even when it's set. Just make sure that the middle does not jiggle a lot more than the sides. That means it needs more time.

Berry Sauce

1/2 cup berry preserves (I used raspberry jam p.s. it had seeds, which I like because it adds a fun little crunch. If you prefer seedless, by all means go seedless!)

1 Tablespoon Chamborde liqueur, also considered orange liqueur or a bit of Triple Sec

Pour the preserves in a saucepan and arm on medium heat, stirring constantly with wire whip until smooth. Remove from heat and add liqueur. Let cool slightly and drizzle over pie.

**Just a shout-out to Joy: After hours and hours spent baking her recipes and perusing her blog, I decided to start my own blog a year ago. She has truly been an inspiration for my baking, my writing style, and my sense of well-being. I thank you again and again and again Joy! (Below is a photograph of Joy, on the right, and myself at a roof-top picnic that she put together for her and her fellow blogging friends/readers last year.)