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.

Shirley Corriher’s Roasted Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies

dsc04136from Bakewise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking, p. 375-76.

Deep. How many baking books can you characterize as deep? Shirley Corriher’s new book on baking aims to infuse home cooks with the principles of baking. It’s a heady transfusion. I sat reading the book for a couple of hours on the first day I had it. The good number of recipes I’d like to try encouraged me. The complexity and ramshackle organization of the great body of knowledge stored in it intimidated me. Wasn’t Scribner once known for its great editors? Or was that only for the likes of Thomas Wolfe?

Nevertheless, I found many elements of the format pleasing. For instance, each recipe begins with a little introduction, which is followed by a box, “What This Recipe Shows,” filled with the key chemical or constituent advantages demonstrated in that particular recipe. A beginner can learn immediately. A more experienced cook will learn the rationale or the science informing many of the techniques she or he has learned haphazardly over time. Anyone who really has a desire to understand the math behind the synthesis of flour, sugar, fats, and eggs can do so here. For the rest of us, who would prefer to let Shirley and the likes of Harold McGee handle that side of cooking, we can get on with baking in blissful ignorance.

I’m glad I read around in the book before I settled on making something seemingly simple like these cookies. I wouldn’t have known, for instance, that King Arthur’s unbleached all-purpose flour, which I happen to have in my flour bins, is high-protein — something I learned only in the introduction to the cookie section — and so preferable for cookies but not for cakes.If ever there was a cookbook designed for this blog, Bakewise is it. It needs someone to sort it out in order to get the full flavor of it. I suspect this book will turn out to be one of the best investments I’ve made in a cookbook purchase. But it’s not for daytrippers.

Let’s get started:

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Roasted pecans ground to a coarse meal help thicken this dough and add great flavor.
  • The baking soda is excessive and overleavens, but it does aid in making a slightly darker cookie.
  • In order to make the dough thick enough to shape into rolls that can be chilled and then sliced, I reduced the eggs from 2 to 1. [My note: but she didn’t; must be a typo]

3 cups (10.5 oz/297 g) pecans

1 cup plus 2 Tblsp (9 oz/2.55 g), unsalted butter, divided

1 tsp (6 g) salt, divided

2 1/4 cups (10 oz/287 g) spooned and leveled unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp (5 g) baking soda

1 1/2 cups (10.5 oz/ 298 g) sugar

1 tsp (5 ml) unsulfured molasses

1 Tbsp (1.5 ml) pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs (3.5 oz/99 g)

2 cups (12 oz/340 g) semisweet chocolate chips

Nonstick cooking spray, optional

1. Arrange a shelf in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C.

2. Spread out the pecans on a baking sheet and roast until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. While they are hot, toss the nuts with 2 Tbsp of the butter (1 oz/ 28 g) and 1/4 tsp (1.5 g) salt.

3. When the nuts have cooled, place 1 1/2 cups (5.25 oz/149 g) of the pecans in a food processor with the steel blade and process with quick on/offs until very finely chopped to a coarse meal. The nuts will chop unevenly, so do not try to get every nut finely chopped, but watch the overall batch carefully — do not go to pecan butter.

4. In a bowl, best together the pecan meal, flour, baking soda, and the remaining 3/4 tsp (4.5 g) salt. Set aside.

5. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the remaining 1 cup butter (8 oz/226 g) with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and vanilla. On the lowest speed, beat in the eggs. Beat in the flour-pecan meal mixture in several batches.

6. Coarsely chop the remaning 1 1/2 cups (5.25 oz/ 149 g) pecans. Stir the pecans and chocolate chips into the dough. Work in with your hands, if necessary. Shape into several logs about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter, wrap plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 36 hours if desired.

7. Turn up the oven to 375 F/191 C. Line a baking sheet with Release foil, nonstick side up, or parchment sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Slice the dough into 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) slices. Keep unbaked dough refrigerated. Place on the baking sheet about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Bake until the edges just begin to color, 9 to 11 minutes.

Now, my turn…

I have to say I ignored the bits about Release foil and nonstick spray. The cookies came off the parchment paper without a problem. Second, on the page before this recipe (p. 374), she mentions at the end of her story about the origin of chocolate chip cookies that one master baker in NYC refrigerates his cookie dough for 36 hours to achieve a “drier, firmer dough.” She notes, too, that “Flavorwise, standing time is a gold mine, allowing the doughs’ flavors to meld.” So, now like the Slow-Rise Bread, we’ve entered the age of the Slow-Meld Cookie.

I have no idea why she calls for unsulfured molasses — one of the few things she doesn’t explain — but it turns out most molasses are unsulfured, I think.

When she says to let the nuts cool, pay attention. Grinding hot nuts brings out moisture and so renders them into a paste. Cooled nuts grind to a coarse meal.

I found the dough too chunky to slice easily. So, I left the dough in the bowl and refrigerated that. When the time came to bake, I scooped out a heaping tablespoon of dough, rolled it with the palm of my hand into a ball, and then partially flattened it.

The next time I make these cookies:

As happy as I was with how they turned out — buttery, crisp around the edges, and chewy in the center, next time I won’t flatten them as much as I did. I want a cookie with a smaller diameter that’s thicker and chewier. But it’s an excellent cookie.

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Crackles

dsc04047from Martha Stewart’s Cookies, p. 68.

First, biscotti, now cookies. Sherry has inspired me to keep moving in a bakerly direction. I have learned from her that cookie-making is an art, not side-line to serious cooking. For instance, she maintains that no people understand cookies as well as the Italians. Perhaps when I post this, she’ll add a comment to explain what she means.

In the meantime, about a week ago, she brought over a few chocolate cookies with snow-capped surfaces that I went wild over. I am beginning to understand how satisfying a good cookie can be. They’re small, discrete, and, ideally, well-balanced between sweetness, moisture, and texture.

Among her favorite cookie books, Martha Stewart’s new book on the subject holds a very prominent place. It is easy to sneer at Martha Stewart — at least I used to find it easy. But now that I’ve tried a number of recipes from her books, she has earned my respect. I’ve skimmed through the new book of Martha Stewart’s Living recipes (seen at Costco in this season) and noticed quite a few recipes I’d like to try, including a number of interesting biscotti recipes. Her compendium of hors-d’oeuvres is very useful. I don’t often use it, but I’d never get rid of it. In fact, she has a recipe for a savory biscotti (browned-butter, lemon and capers) that I will attempt soon.

Here is her recipe for a beautiful lush, snowy, chewy chocolate cookie:

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp coarse salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup whole milk

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring. Set aside and let cool. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Divide each piece into sixteen 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioner’s sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

4. Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.

When I made it…

First, only Valrhona chocolate will do. I used Dagoba’s cocoa powder. None of the cocoa powders I saw in my favorite fancy-shmancy market identified themselves as “Dutch process,” so I had to let that go.

I set a clear Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of water to melt the chocolate and then set it aside.

A hand-held electric mixer might work in a pinch, but this recipe really requires the heft and endurance of a counter-top electric mixer. However, the butter and brown sugar never got pale and fluffy. So, I let that go as well and forged on.

Dividing the flour into two additions allows for the smooth intergration of the dry ingredients. I found I had to stop the mixer a few times to scrap down the sides, because too much was adhering high up the side of the bowl.

Because of all the bread and biscotti I’ve been making, I was expecting a much more solid “dough” than what the recipe produced. The consistency resembled very thick frosting. It certainly was wetter than I expected, so I wasn’t sure how to divide the dough into four portions. So, instead, I transferred the entirety to a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge.

The first rolling in granulated sugar is easy. The trick to the second in confectioner’s sugar is to make sure the sugar sticks to the balls at least in patches all over the surface of the ball.

The baking time was perfect. The cooling on the rack is what makes the surface of the cookie a touch crisp and the inside continue to be chewy.

If you prefer to keep some on hand, Sherry says they freeze well.

Next time I make these cookies…

I am going to confront the wet dough and divide it into four. It will make for uniform sizes better than I managed by eyeballing the amount between my fingers.