Category Archives: Desserts

Susannah Blake: Carrot and Cardamom Cupcakes

from Cupcake Heaven, p. 21.

Lately, I’ve been looking for cupcake recipe books that range outside the parameters of children’s bake sales and birthday parties. Was there, I wondered, an adult cupcake cookbook? It didn’t take me long to find a few that have interesting cupcakes, including savory ones. This book, in particular, looked promising. It contains recipes for Lavender cupcakes, Orange and Poppyseed Cupcakes, Rosewater Cupcakes, Maple and Pecan Cupcakes, as well as the usual holiday sorts of confections.

This carrot and cardamom version appealed to me. It had all the appeal of carrot cake plus the promise of cardamom. However, I had to make a significant change to the recipe. I refused to buy self-rising flour. So, I substituted all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder for it. I couldn’t detect a difference. All in all, the cupcake tasted a little bland. Next time, more cardamom, a pinch of sea salt? The mascarpone worked very well.

Makes 12 regular sized cupcakes or 24 or more mini cupcakes

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup sunflower oil

2 eggs

grated peel of 1 unwaxed orange

seeds from 5 cardamom pods, crushed

Shadowcook: Next time, I’m going to increase the cardamom to 6 or 7 pods. And once again I used the Kohn Rikon ratchet mill to excellent effect.

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour

Shadowcook: I used instead 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

2 carrots, grated

Shadowcook: Use the small-holed side of the grater.

1/2 cup shelled walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

to decorate:

2/3 cup mascarpone

finely grated peel of 1 unwaxed orange

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/3 cup confestioners’ sugar, sifted

a 12-cup cupcake pan, lined with paper liners

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the sugar in a bowl and break up using the back of a fork, then beat in the oil and eggs. Stir in the orange peel, crushed caradmom seeds, and ginger, then sift the flour into the mixture and fold in, followed by the carrot and nuts.

Spoon the mixture into the paper liners or silicone molds and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To decorate, beat the mascarpone, orange peel, lemon juice, and sugar together in a bowl spread over the cupcakes.

Mona Talbott’s Biscotti Lucia

from Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, p. 45.

Who doesn’t like cookies? My sister, for one, but practically everyone else does. They make a wonderful gift to bring to a party instead of or in addition to a bottle of wine. The friends at the monthly circulating cocktail party I belong to enjoyed these Italian almond cookies. Several people tried to pocket a few to take home at the end of the evening. A good sign.

My favorite cookie book is Martha Stewart’s. But, in this case, if the rest of the collection turns out as well as this first attempt, then Mona Talbott’s Biscotti is going to run a close second, a tie with Carol Field’s Italian cookies. Talbott’s recipes hint at how underrated Italian cookies are. My own impression, at any rate, had been that they tend to be bland. And in all the  years I visited Italy I ate nothing that dissuaded me of that impression. Good bakers are hard to find in Italy. Yet, when you find them, good Italian cookies are satisfying in a minimalist way.

I doubled the recipe proportions, because 1 1/2 egg whites seems a bit too fussy and I knew I’d find enough people to eat a double batch. So, the amounts below represent double proportions.

I have a couple of suggestions to supplement the simple and clear instructions…

For about 50 cookies

500g / 18 0z blanched almonds

400g / 2 cups granulated sugar

6 g / 2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 g / 1 tsp lemon zest

3 egg whites, lightly beaten

50 or a few more whole blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.

Pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor until the almonds are chopped medium fine.

Shadowcook: It’s okay if there are big bits of nuts. The pulsing took longer than I expected.

Transfer the nut-sugar mixture to a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon and lemon zest and mix well. Gently fold in the lightly beaten egg whites until well incorporated.

Shadowcook: I put the egg whites in the Kitchenaid mixer with the whisk attachment. I turned the mixer on to medium and whisked the whites until they were frothy but not solid white, about 1 minute.

Roll the dough into 28 small balls (18 g / 3/4 oz) and top each cookie with a blanced almond.

Shadowcook: Rolling the balls is a lot easier if your hands are wet.

Transfer the cookies to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them 2 cm / 3/4 inch apart.

Bake for 10 minutes. the cookies will be light in color and will form a nice crust as they cool.

Shadowcook: Be prepared to leave them in a oven longer than 10 minutes. You won’t be able to tell if the cookies are done cooking by touching them. If you want to be sure that you cook them the proper amount of time for them to finish cooking, try baking one ball on its own for 10-15 mins. My oven’s temperature is such that I wound up baking the cookies for 15 minutes.

And it’s true that cooling cookies on a rack is where the crust forms. Cooling is almost as important a step as baking in bringing a cookie to perfection.

These cookies will keep for up to 2 weeks in a sealed container.

Nick Malgieri: Sour Cream Cheesecake

Recipe from my aunt, perhaps available somewhere here.

Cheesecake. I know, so eighties. This one, however, knocked my socks off. I recently visited my beloved aged aunt in New Jersey. Age has not diminished her cooking. She’s the kind of relative whose food turns out to be as good in your adulthood as you remember it being in your childhood. I probably acquired my love of cooking from her.

If anything is responsible for the cheesecake’s fall from favor, I attribute it to the graham cracker crust. A shortbread bottom crust sets this cheesecake apart from all others I’ve eaten. The cake is creamy and light. The shortbread base stays firm to the cut of a fork. This recipe will make you nostalgic for the luscious sort of cheesecake that we all used to make in the ’80s.

Make this recipe the day before you plan on eating it:


1 (3-inch deep) 9-inch springform pan

a 10×15-inch jellyroll pan

Cheesecake base:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg yolk

1 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry measure cup and level off)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Cheesecake batter:

1 pound (16 oz) cream cheese

1 cup sugar

1 (16 oz) sour cream

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of the springform pan and line with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside.

Shadowcook: I took this to mean: cut a circle of parchment or wax paper and place over the round buttered bottom of the springform pan.

To make the base, beat together the butter and sugar by hand until light and fluffy. Beat in the yolk until smooth. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. With a rubber spatula, gently fold into the butter mixture. The mixture will be crumbly.

Shadowcook: You’ll probably have to gather it into a ball of dough with your hands. It will easily fall apart. Don’t overwork it. Remember, this is a crust that does not go up the sides of the cake.

Place the dough in the pan and use your hands to pat it down evenly and firmly over the bottom. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and baked through. Transfer to a rack and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

To make the batter: In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on the lowest speed just until smooth, no more than 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beater. Add the sugar in a stream, mixing for no more than 30 seconds. Stop and scrape again. Add 1 cup of sour cream and mix only until it is absorbed, no more than 30 seconds. Repeat with the remaining sour cream. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing only until each is absorbed; stop and scrape after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Shadowcook: I suspect the reason for Malgieri’s insistance on underbeating rather than overbeating is that the cake is less likely to set firm during the baking the more you beat the batter. So, even if there are lumps, err on the side of underbeating the batter.

Wrap heavy-duty aluminum foil around the bottom of the springform pan so it comes at least one inch up the sides. Pour the batter into the pan. Place the pan in a jellyroll pan or roasting pan and pour warm water into the pan to a depth of 1/2-inch.

Shadowcook: I used my big rectangular pyres baking dish and I poured in boiling water around the cake pan higher than 1/2-inch.

Bake the cheesecake for about 55 minutes, or until it is lightly colored and firm except for the very center. Remove from the oven and lift the cheesecake out of the hot water. Remove the foil and let cool completely on a rack. Wrap the cheesecake and chill overnight.

Shadowcook: Expect some condensation to form under the surface of the wrap.

To unmold the cheesecake, run a knife or thin spatula around the inside of the pan pressing the knife against the pan, not the cake. Unbuckle the pan side and lift off. Leave the cake on the base, or run a spatula under the cake base and slide the cake onto a platter.

Shadowcook: A few hours before serving, I roasted about 2 cups of hazelnuts in a 350 F oven. While they were still warm, I put the nuts in a tea towel and rubbed them vigorously to get the skins off the nuts. Then I took a kitchen mallet and crushed them into pieces. Using a long, thin spatula, I applied the crushed nuts around the side of the cake. Then I put the cake back in the refrigerator to set.

Shirley Corriher’s Great Flower Cake


from Bakewise, pp. 239-42.

When you’ve got two friends who enjoy cooking, putting on a dinner party doesn’t feel like mounting a campaign. I took charge of the main course — a fresh ham marinated overnight in citrus juices, tequila, cumin and garlic — and the dessert — Shirley’s Great Flower Cake. Rosamaria provided delicious black beans, not mushy, not hard, just right. Sherry brought her luscious avocado-jicama-orange and butter lettuce salad.

The ham in the oven need little attention, just an occasional check on the meat’s internal temperature. The cake took a couple of hours in the morning to make. When I served it at the end of the meal, I was pleased by how light it tasted — fluffy whipped cream, delicate nutty sponge cake, and sliced strawberries laced with red currant jelly and Grand Marnier. It certainly was one of the most elegant desserts I’ve ever made. And, after enjoying a first piece and refusing a second as just too hoggish, six of us lost our willpower. “Oh, the hell with it!” And they dived right back into the cake.

[From here, I’m going to experiment with the format of the post. Because this recipe consists of ten steps, I will place my comments in italics between each step. It may make it easier to digest. I’d love it if someone gave me feedback on whether it makes the post easier to use.]

Shirley presents the cake in this way:

Makes one 12-inch (30-cm) round cake.


1 3/4 cups (6 0z/173 g) pecans

1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt, divided

6 large egg yolks (3.9 oz/111 g)

1 teaspoon (5 ml) water

1 cup (7 0z/198 g) superfine sugar, divided

1 teaspoon (5 g) baking powder

1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract

6 large egg whites (6 oz/ 170 g)

3/4 teaspoon (2 g) cream of tartar

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Nonstick cooking spray with flour

Whipped Cream and Fruit

2 cups (473 ml) heavy cream

2 tablespoons (30 ml) shaved or finely crushed ice

5 tablespoons (1.3 oz/37 g) confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons (30 ml) Grand Marnier liqueur, divided

1 quart (946 ml) strawberries, hulled and each cut lengthwise into several slices

1/2 cup (118 ml) red currant jelly

1. Arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C. Spread the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 g) of the salt. Let cool. Finely chop the pecans in a food processor with the steel blade.

Shadowcook: It is very important to let the nuts completely cool. The warm the nuts are when you process them, the most likely they’ll turn to paste. Shirley’s the chemist, but I read somewhere that heat produces moisture in nuts and spices when they’re ground.

2. Turn up the oven to 400 F/204 C. Prepare a 17 x 11 x 1-inch (43 x 30 x 2.5 cm) jelly-roll pan by lining with Release foil, nonstick side up. Alternatively, you can use a nonstick or silicone baking sheet liner or parchment sprayed with a nonstick cooking spray with flour, or greased with shortening and coated with a light dusting of flour.

Shadowcook: I still don’t know what Release foil is and, to my horror, I realized too late that I was out of parchment. But I sprayed the pan with nonstick cooking spray and dusted the surface lightly with flour. It worked fairly well, but I intend to use parchment paper next time.

3. Place the egg yolks in the bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment. Add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) water and all but 2 tablespoons (0.9 oz/26 g) of the superfine sugar. Whip on  medium speed until well aerated and light in color, about 4 minutes. By hand, stir in the chopped pecans, baking powder, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 g) salt, and the vanilla.

4. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean, dry mixing bowl until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons (0.9 oz/26 g) of sugar and beat in well. Spoon about one-quarter of the beaten egg whites into the yolk mixture with a large spatula. Stir in well to lighten the yolk mixture. Add the rest of the whites to the yolk mixture and gently fold in.

Shadowcook: This step requires a confident hand — which I didn’t have. On the one hand, I didn’t want to overmix the white with the nut mixture. On the other, I wanted the whites well blended. When it came time to pour out the batter into the pan, I found a bit of the nut mixture at the bottom that should have been better incorporated with the whites. Note to self: use big, thorough folding movements with spatula to incorporate all the ingredients.

5. Spread the batter evenly in the jelly-roll pan and bake until springy to the touch, 10 to 12 minutes. Dust a clean dish towel heavily with confectioners’ sugar. Invert the cake onto the towel and carefully peel off the foil or liner. Let stand to cool thoroughly.

Shadowcook: Here’s the tricky part. First of all, even in my oven, which tends to run cool, the cake cooked faster than I expected. Watch it carefully. If your pan is thin and cheap, the bottom is likely to burn. The cake will puff up and pull away from the sides of the pan. You’ll see when it’s ready. Don’t let the edges brown. Inverting the cake on to the towel also was tricky.

Next time, I’m going to place the sugar-dusted towel on a rimless baking sheet, quickly flip it over on to the cake still in its pan, and invert it. I followed the directions with the result that my 11 x 17 rectangle got a little skewed when it landed on the towel. Cutting the cake into equal strips is easier when it holds its shape.

6. For the whipped cream, place a bowl and beaters in the freezer for 10 minutes to chill well. Place the cream in the freezer for 5 minutes to chill. Pour the cream into the chilled bowl. Add the ice and whip to form peaks. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of the Grand Marnier.

Shadowcook: Shaved ice? Shirley maintains in head paragraph that “A little shave or finely crushed ice added to the cream aids in fast whipping.” Maybe, I didn’t have any on hand and it worked fine.

7. Spread the whipped cream evenly in a thick layer on top of the cooled nut cake. With a serrated knife, slice the cake lengthwise into 8 equal strips, about 1 3/8 x 17 inches (3.5 x 43 cm). The easiest way to do this is to slice the cake in half lengthwise, slice each half lengthwise, and then each piece in half again.

Shadowcook: I departed from the instructions. I cut the cake into strips before I spread the whipped cream on. And, for reasons that I’ll explain after the next set of instructions, I cut all but the first strip in half. Plus, I barely had enough whipped cream. Next time, I might increase the cream by a 1/4 or 1/3 of a cup.

8. To assemble, take one strip and roll it up like a jelly roll. Now turn the spiral over on one side like a cinnamon roll and place it flat in the center of a large serve platter. Take another strip and carefully curl it around the first one to make a larger spiral. Continue adding 1 strip at a time until all 8 strips are used. The cake is now a spiral of dark cake and white whipped cream, about 1 3/4 inches (3.5 cm) high and a little more than 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter.

Shadowcook: This, too, turned out to require a deft hand. Maybe it’s a shortcoming of the cake I made, but the first strip broke in two places. But all was not lost. I managed to hold the first and long strip together in a spiral and place it in the center of my cake stand. Cutting the rest of the strips in half made lifting them with a long icing spatula much easier. I didn’t try to roll up the first half strip. Instead, I placed one end on its side up against the end of the center spiral and wrapped it around the outside. Then I placed the next half strip at the end of that first one. With each strip, I created a widening spiral. don’t press the strip too close to the inner strip. When I finished adding all the strips, I didn’t see much point in alternating dark cake and white cream, since the strawberries were about to obscure the spiral entirely. So, I smoothed the cream like icing on top of the cake.

9. Starting at the outside edge, arrange strawberry slices with the tips of the berries pointing outward, overlapping all the way around the outside edge. Arrange another circle just inside the first so that the inner circle overlaps the first circle about halfway. Continue with another overlapping circle inside the first two, and so on, until the entire cake is covered and looks like a great red flowers blossom.

Shadowcook: I used only the 3 inner triangular slices and placed an entire strawberry upside down like a pyramid right in the center.

10. In a small saucepan, warm the jelly just enough to melt. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 ml) Grand Marnier to thin. Brush the entire top heavily with jelly glaze. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Shadowcook: The jelly melted, but looked lumpy to me. It took a delicate touch to brush it on the strawberries without ruining the flower blossom effect. Dab and drip lightly. Finally, within an hour or so of being in the fridge, the strawberries extruded red liquid that dripped off the fruit tips on to the cake platter. A quick wipe before serving cleaned that up.

Variation: Peaches, ripe mangos, or plums may be substituted for the strawberries. Use an appropriate liqueur such as amaretto with peaches or mangos, or Chambord with plums.

Note: If you do not have superfine sugar, process granulated sugar in a food processor with the steel blade for about 1 minute.

Martha Stewart’s Earl Grey Tea Cookies

dsc00093from Martha Stewart’s Cookies, p. 231.

The feeling that I was getting stuck in a chocolate rut, I decided to try Martha’s Earl Grey Tea Cookies, after my friend Jonathan made a batch that pleased him so much that he took the artful photo you see above. The batch I made had tremendous potential. I really loved the delicate flavor. My tasting crew in my department seemed to enjoy them as well. But the balance of flavors in this cookie is crucial. Furthermore, it’s not the most clearly set-forth recipe I’ve ever read.

Here’s what I mean…

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves (from about 4 bags)

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

1. Whisk together flour, tea, and salt in a bowl.

2. Put butter, confectioners’ sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.

3. Divide in half. Transfer each half to a piece of parchment paper; shape into logs. Roll in parchment to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow the log and force out air. Transfer in parchment to paper towel tubes; freeze until firm, 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.

5. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

What the….?

Frankly, Martha lost me a little at step 3. And then she had me thoroughly annoyed when I reached the moment where I needed to have on hand paper towel tubes — as in more than one. Not, mind you, that I had even one.

To begin, however, at the beginning, I bought a box of organic Earl Grey tea in bags at my local co-op. I believe it’s worth finding the right Earl Grey tea for this cookie. Some teas don’t contain enough bergamot, as this one did not. I know there is a particular British brand of Early Grey available in the States, but I can’t remember its name.

Next, the balance required in this cookie to make it sing is between the tea, on the one hand, and the orange zest, on the other. Just a few flecks more or less of zest disturb the complementarity of the flavors. When I make this cookie again, I’m going to err on the side of less zest — perhaps a scant tablespoon would be the best way to describe the amount.

I used Maldon sea salt. I’m not sure why this was called for. I ate just a few of the cookies. I felt the crunch and tasted the slight charge of a small chunk of salt in one cookie and nothing in the other. Next time, I will substitute kosher salt.

As for the beating of the butter, sugar, and zest, it pays to follow the directions regarding time. I noticed a difference in the creamed butter at 1 min and 2 1/32 mins. The longer you cream it, the fluffier it will be.

I confess I ignored those useless directions to roll the dough in parchment. Oh, I rolled it up into a log all right in parchment. But the ruler? Didn’t understand that. I squeezed the dough tightly. I’ll have to figure out how to squeeze out the air some way. You’ll see in the photo that one or two of the cookies Jonathan made have airholes.

After rolling the dough into logs that were smaller in diameter than 1 1/2 inches, I put the parchment-wrapped logs in the freezer. After an hour, I removed and cut off half of a log and put the rest back in the freezer for another time.  Slice and bake.

Very tasty cookies. I intend to have some with tea one of these rainy days this week. The essence of Earl Grey is subtle. The texture of the cookie resembles shortbread. It has a nice crumble to it. Tomorrow, I’ll have tea around 4 pm, shortly before I leave to leave for dinner and then the opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Carol Fields: Ossi da Mordere (Italian macarons)


from The Italian Baker, p. 420.

My friend Sherry, cookie maestra, swears by this book. Now that I’ve tasted several of the recipes from it, I’m amazed that I hadn’t heard of it. After all, it was published in 1985 and, as far as I can tell, it has not been reissued. I first had these cookies a week ago. They are addictive, if you like a little something to finish off a glass of red wine after dinner. I made them for the first time today. How easy!

By the way, I believe ‘ossi da mordere’ has the meaning of ‘bones to gnaw on.’  But I could be wrong.

How simple can you get?

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

3/4 cup plus 2 Tblsp (100 grams) blanched almonds

1 1/3 cups (200 grams) confectioner’s sugar

Scant 1/4 cup (20 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch process

3 to 3 1/2 Tbsp egg whites

1 Tbsp milk

Grind the almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and cocoa and process to a fine powder. Add 3 tablespoons egg whites and process to a stiff, solid paste. Add the additional egg white if necessary.

Shaping. Pinch off pieces of dough the size of a fat cherry and roll between your hands into balls. Place 2 inches apart on buttered or parchment-lined baking sheets. Lightly brush the tops with milk.

Baking. Heat the oven to 325 F. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. At first the cookies will flatten and look like nothing at all, but, given a few more minutes, each of these little cookies will puff up and their tops will become cracked and shiny. Cool on racks.

My reactions…

Ingredients are all. When I next make them, first of all, I’m going to make sure to have blanched almonds. I used unskinned almonds and I’m sure the cookies suffered a bit for it. I used Dagoba’s cocoa powder. Next time, I’ll try it with Valrhona’s. Perhaps the chocolate will be richer and slightly earthier.

I didn’t use more than 3 Tbsp of egg whites. Next time, I’ll try the entire 3 1/2 tablespoons to see what the difference is.

Brushing with milk is aesthetic, meaning necessary. The three that I forgot to brush turned out dull and drab.

And once again I am reminded how much most cookies benefit from cooling on the tray on which they’re baked placed  on the rack. Their exteriors are crisper as a result.

It took less than 10 minutes to pull the dough together.

Last thoughts…


Update, Feb 16: In response to a couple of questions:

  • to measure the rather awkward requirement of 3 1/2 Tblsp of egg white, I used an Oxo 1/4 cup-4 Tblsp measuring cup. 2 large eggs are plenty. See next point.
  • The wetter the dough, the flatter the cookie. That’s fine. But to achieve something like a French macaron (puffed up, in other words) use less than 3 1/2 Tblsp of egg whites. A stiff dough rises more, it seems.
  • If I can get a consistent rise out of these cookies, I’m going to experiment with creating a cream to spread between two of them, like a French macaron. I think I’ll have to make sure the almonds are ground really, really fine.

Shirley Corriher’s Chocolate Pecan Torte with a Hint of Bourbon

dsc04143from Bakewise, pp. 237-38; 97; 141-42.

Even more enjoyable than cooking for friends is cooking with friends for friends. I supplied the dessert at a friend’s dinner party. Sherry made short ribs and polenta that had everyone at the table swooning. My chocolate pecan torte served as a robust coda to a rich, wintery meal.

To put together this deceptively light flourless cake, Shirley Corriher had me jumping from back to front and back again in her book. But I followed her directions closely — except at the points where she calls for the use of a microwave. I gave mine up over a year ago and haven’t missed it. Dorrie Greenspan’s chocolate recipes gave me the experience necessary to work around the microwave. The ganache turned out well, although I wondered whether Shirley would have considered the surface of the cake (as seen in the image above) not sufficiently smooth.

It takes three recipes in the book to make the torte: one for the cake, one for the ganache, and one that explains how to ice the cake with the ganache. A few of the ingredients were new to me. I had my doubts about the nonstick cooking spray, but felt reassured about it when I found an aerosol can of it at Williams-Sonoma. One of the saleswomen at W-S kindly suggested I look in a craft store for cardboard circles. That turned out to be a great suggestion. I bought a package of 8 circles for less than $4.  Luckily, Sherry had some potato starch (why, I have no idea), so that saved me having to search for it at my local co-op.  As usual, I bought Valrhona chocolate at Trader Joe’s. My last bit of advice is don’t make this cake at the last minute, because the instructions to let the ingredients completely cool at various stages bears following assiduously.

So, we start with the cake…

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Both finely ground nuts and cocoa particles in chocolate can act as flour in flourless cakes.
  • Melting the chocolate with butter avoids the danger of having the chocolate sieze.
  • A small amount of cream of tartar ensures that the batter will be acidic.

1 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) pecans

Nonstick cooking spray

6 oz (170 g) semisweet chocolate

3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter

4 large egg yolks (2.6 oz/ 74 g)

1 1/4 cups (8.8 oz/ 248 g) sugar, divided

2 Tblsp (0.8 oz/22 g) potato starch

1 Tblsp (15 ml) bourbon

4 large egg whites (4 oz/ 113 g)

1/4 tsp (0.5 g) cream of tartar

1 recipe Shiny Ganache Glaze (to follow)

1. Arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven with a baking stone on it and preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C.

2. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet. Place the sheet on the hot baking stone. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

3. When nuts are completely cool, place them in a food processor with a steel blade and process with quick on/offs until finely chopped. Stop before the nuts get oily and the mixture starts to clump.

4. Increase oven temperature to 375 F/191 C.

5. Spray a 9 x 2-inch (23 x 5-cm) round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and line with a parchment circle. (I very lightly spray the top of the parchment, too)

6. Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt chocolate and butter for 2 minutes in the microwave on 50% power. Allow to cool.

7. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and 3/4 cup (5.3 oz/150 g) of the sugar until pale. Stir in the chocolate, roasted pecans, potato starch, and bourbon.

8. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Beat slowly at first, increasing speed until almost on high. Beat until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Beat in the remaining 1/2 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) sugar. fold one-quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture. Now fold the lightened chocolate mixture into the remaining whites.

9. Pour the batter into the pan; smooth the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out with moist crumbs, about 40 to 45 minutes.

10. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a rack. The center will sink a little. Gently press down the outside edge to level. Jar the edge of the pan on the counter to loosen or run a thin knife around the edge, and invert onto an 8-inch (20-cm) cardboard cake circle. Cool completely before icing with Shiny Ganache Glaze.

When I made the cake…

Instead of melting the chocolate and butter in the microwave, I put chopped the chocolate with my chef’s knife, put it with butter in a  pyrex bowl, and place it over simmering water on the stove. It melted quickly. I let it cool for a few minutes before proceeding.

I used my Kitchen-Aid mixer to blend the cake batter and my hand mixer for the egg whites.

I dumped the quarter teaspooon of cream of tartar at once into the egg whites. I noticed it clumped initially. Next time, I’ll sprinkle it over the egg whites.

Conscious that my oven tends to be a little cool, I was surprised that the cake was clearly ready to come out of the oven after 35 to 40 minutes. In the oven, the top puffed up and cracked like a soufflé, but sank once it was cooling on the rack. When I inverted the cake on to the cardboard circle, the bottom showed signs that another couple of minutes and it would have burned. So, remember that the cake can burn easily.

Now, the ganache…

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Corn syrup gives this glaze its deep glossy sheen.
  • Add the grated chocolate to the cream helps prevent “seizing.”
  • This is not as thin as a medium ganache or as thick as a firm ganache. The texture makes the glaze not as runny and a little easier to work with than a medium ganache.

16 oz (454 g) semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces

1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy cream

1/2 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) sugar

2 Tblsp (30 ml) corn syrup

1. Place the chocolate in a food processor with the steel blade and finely chop.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, carefully bring the cream and sugar to a boil. Watch constantly. Let simmer for 1 minute. Pour the hot cream into a medium mixing bowl that has a wide surface. Stir in the corn syrup. Let cool about 30 seconds. All at once, pour the chopped chocolate over the entire surface. Jar or barely shake the bowl to get the chocolate to settle. Allow to stand about 30 seconds. Start stirring in the middle, blending the melted chocolate and cream together. Try not to incorporate air. Stir slowly until all the chocolate is melted and blended. Use immediately, or refrigerate and reheat to thin.

My turn…

Don’t over stir, but gently stir the chocolate and cream together until it is dark. It won’t start out dark, remember. Keep slowly stirring and folding with a rubber spatula. You’ll see it come together. Mysterious process, but it works.

Finally, the Double-Icing Technique…

1. Place the cooled cake on a cardboard circle that is slightly smaller than the cake. This allows you to hold the cake with the sturdy cardboard bottom and tilt it as necessary. Next, place the cake on a cooling rack that is sitting on a large piece of parchment paper or a nonstick baking sheet. You want something that catches icing drips and allows you to scrape them up if you need to.

2. Pour slightly less than half of the ganache into a 2-cup (473-ml) glass measuring cup with a spout. You want the glaze almost cool enough to set, about 90 F/32 C. Pour a puddle of icing in the center of the cake and continue pouring until the icing starts to overflow and run down the edges. Lift the cake and tilt to encourage the glaze to run where there isn’t any. With a metal spatula, smooth the icing around the edge. Do what you can to cover the top and all around the edges. Allow the cake to cool for about 30 minutes.

3. No spatula from here on! Heat the remaining half of the ganache or glaze just until it flows easily. So that it will be perfectly smooth, strain it into a warm 2 cup (473 ml) glass measuring cup with a spout. If you are right-handed, hold the cake up with your left hand, keep it over the parchment. With your right hand, pour the glaze into the center of the cake. Allow the glaze to run down the edges and tilt to get it to run where it is needed. Pour more glaze on as needed, but do NOT touch it with the spatula. You want this coating untouched, as smooth as a lake at dawn — a perfect, shiny, dark surface. Place the cake on a the cooling rack and allow to cool.

Making a mess…

I realize now why the surface of the cake looked rippled. I overlooked the step Shirley calls for involving straining the ganache before pouring the second coat.

Having trained myself in the Dorrie School of Chocolate, I prefer to chop/shave bars of chocolate with my big chef’s knife.

Be prepared to acquiring a bracelet of chocolate on the hand that hold the cake. Even if you’re careful, it’s a messy. But worth it.

The ganache is actually quite thick and doesn’t run as easily as I expected. You have to be patient.

Last Thoughts:

The surprise element in this torte is the slight crunch of the meringue on the bottom (which began as the puffed, hard top of the cake as it baked). It is a luscious cake. I served it as Shirley recommended, in a  puddle of cream whipped to the consistency of sauce. Divine.