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.