Grated Bread & Chocolate Cake

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When it comes to unusual cakes, this one takes the… well. I guess you could say it takes itself! 😉

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The texture of this cake is decidedly European. Its structure comes from a blend of ground nuts and beaten egg whites – so, nuts and air. 🙂 This kind of cake is common in Europe, especially in older European recipes, but it is rarely seen in American cake recipes. The crumb is not as sweet as American palates are accustomed to; it is a subtle blend of almond and chocolate, owing to the inclusion of grated semisweet chocolate in the batter. Heightening the complexity of the cake’s flavour is the addition of Merlot. It’s mild-tasting only if you are used to the in-your-face sugary concoctions that define America; it’s stunning if your palate is more open to finessed flavours. The cake is filled and iced with a semisweet chocolate mousse which pairs perfectly with this cake, teasing out the mild chocolate flavour inherent within the crumb. I further enhanced the chocolate flavour by brushing the cake with a mocha raspberry simple syrup. Not only does this further moisten the cake’s soft crumb, it adds yet another subtle layer of flavour.

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This sophisticated cake won the $25,000 grand prize of a heritage recipe contest held by America’s Test Kitchen. According to the recipe’s author, the cake was apparently borne of the desire not to waste bread! Indeed, the cake does include grated bread crumbs. I read the list of ingredients and almost didn’t bother making this cake, as it sounded weird. I’m so glad I took a chance and tried this cake out. It really stands out in a sea of oversweetened, one-note desserts. (My taste buds really woke up when I stopped eating sugar every single day!) I’m fairly certain that most people reading the recipe have the same reaction I did; a combination of “Bread crumbs? Huh?” and “That sounds like it would turn out kind of dry.”

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Surprisingly, the cake does not come out dry, even without the application of simple syrup. It is reminiscent of an angel food cake. The simple syrup gives it the kind of moisture we associate with devil’s food cake, and that legendary texture coupled with the cake’s intriguing complexity of flavour makes it something unforgettable.

Despite the inclusion of 9 egg whites, the finished cake does not taste eggy. It tastes of chocolate, coffee, and mild sweetness. I urge you to try this, even though it probably sounds a bit odd to you, as it did to me. It’s a taste of Old World Europe, just waiting for you at the edge of a microplane zester. 😉

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Grated Bread & Chocolate Cake

Yield: One 9″, two-layered cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:
9 oz. (2 c.) almond flour
1/2 c. plain dried bread crumbs
2 TBS all-purpose flour
1 oz. semisweet chocolate (I used 70% Lindt), grated finely (I used a Microplane zester)
1 tsp. baking powder
9 large egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar, optional (use if your eggs are old, or if you aren’t sure how old they are; older egg whites simply won’t beat up as well)
6 oz. (1 1/2 c.) powdered sugar
1/4 c. Merlot or similar (I used a blend of Merlot and ruby port)
2 TBS lemon juice

For the simple syrup:
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. water
1 TBS Chambord liqeuer
1/3 c. coffee, cooled

For the icing:
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped fine (I used a blend of 70%, 84%, and milk Lindt)
2 c. heavy whipping cream, divided
1 oz. semisweet chocolate (I used 70% Lindt), finely grated, for garnish

Method:

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F (350°F for electric ovens). Spray 2 9″ cake tins with nonstick spray and dust with flour. Line cake tins with parchment paper and spray parchment paper with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Stir together almond flour, bread crumbs, all-purpose flour, chocolate, and baking powder until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Beat egg whites (and cream of tartar, if using) in bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment on low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat until whites form soft peaks, about 1 – 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add powdered sugar, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to high and beat until stiff, but not dry, peaks form, about 3 minutes.

Whisk wine and lemon juice into egg white mixture, being careful not to deflate whites.

Fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture until a few streaks of flour remain. Fold in half of remaining flour until a few streaks remain. Fold in remaining flour mixture until thoroughly combined.

Divide batter between pans and smooth tops. They will not smooth out during baking, so use a finger wetted with water to smooth them, if necessary.

Bake until cakes spring back when poked gently with a finger, about 20 minutes. Rotate pans around 12 minutes into baking. Start checking for doneness 16 minutes or so in; you do not want to overbake these cakes. If you poke with a finger and a dent remains in the top of the cake, they aren’t done yet.

When cakes are done, remove pans to wire rack and cool 10 minutes in pans. Release cakes onto wire racks and cool completely, about an hour to an hour and a half.

While cakes are cooling, make the simple syrup and chocolate mousse. Proceed as directed in “Assembly.”

For the simple syrup:
Boil sugar, water, and Chambord until sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in coffee. Cool completely.

For the icing:
Place chocolate in medium heatproof bowl. Heat 1/2 c. cream until boiling; pour over chocolate and allow to stand 2 minutes. Gently whisk together until completely blended. Allow to cool completely.

Beat remaining 1 1/2 c. cream until soft peaks form. Add all of chocolate mixture and whisk until completely blended; continue to whisk until stiff peaks form.

Assembly:
Slice each cake layer in half, for a total of four layers. Place four strips of wax paper on cake plate and place first layer, cut side up, on top of strips; you’ll pull these strips out after you’ve iced the cake.

Generously brush cake layer with simple syrup. You’ll use probably 2 – 3 TBS of syrup for this; it will seem like too much, but make sure cake layer is moist from the syrup. Spread about 2/3 c. of chocolate mousse onto cake layer and smooth. Place next cake layer, cut side up, on top of mousse; brush with syrup. Spread 2/3 c. mousse on top and repeat with third and fourth cake layers, ensuring that the fourth cake layer is placed cut side down. Ice top and sides of cake with remaining chocolate mousse. Carefully pull wax paper strips from beneath cake.

Decorate with grated chocolate. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Source: Cake barely adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Best-Ever Lost Recipes (January 2018), p. 84; icing from Chocolate Stampede Cake; simple syrup a KitchEnchantress Original. The original version of the cake can be found here.

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Apple Crumble

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I’m pretty crazed for apple pie, but pie crusts always defeat me. They turn out very tasty, for sure, but they always look… deformed. I’m being kind; really, I am. I just cannot seem to get pie crust to look pretty. And it is very important to me that my desserts look as pretty as I can make them. I usually don’t hit my goal posts in this regard, but I always keep trying. 🙂

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This apple crumble recipe from Cook’s Illustrated piqued my interest. I thought I might be able to adapt this to something akin to a Dutch apple pie without the bottom crust. I ended up making quite a few changes to the original recipe. This turned out exactly as I’d hoped: a filling to rival that of the best apple pie, and a crumb topping that is both firm and tender, not to mention buttery!

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I thought the baking times given by Cook’s Illustrated would yield some still-tough apples. I increased the baking time for the apples, baking them at 325°F for a while and then increasing the temperature to 350°F before finishing them at 375°F. The apples emerged soft, tender, juicy, and flavourful. To get the filling even more pie-like, I added some butter and brown sugar to the apples and increased the amount of cinnamon; I also added some cornstarch to get the filling to thicken. The finished filling tastes far better than the premade canned apple pie filling you buy at the store, and I’m proud to finally be able to say I created something that does this.

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The crumb topping contains almonds. I was highly skeptical about including them, but I did so anyway, and I’m glad I did! I did change how the almonds were incorporated into the crumb topping by making sure they were completely ground up in the food processor, rather than leaving them in chunks as directed in the original recipe. The texture of the crumb topping is very rich, almost meaty, if you will, and I think this is due to the almonds. They impart a very faint nutty flavour to the crumb topping that gives the overall dessert more complexity and, oddly, makes it more satisfying. (This might also be due to the extra butter I added to the crumb topping. 😉 )

I thought this was unintentionally adorable and hilarious: One of my butterscotch rivulets formed a little heart on its own. I swear I didn’t engineer this; it just happened. Serendipity, I say: Just in time for Valentine’s Day. 🙂

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Apple Crumble

Yield: One 8×8″ dish

Ingredients:

Filling:
1 generous TBS cornstarch
1 TBS + generous splash of lemon juice
generous sprinkle cinnamon (about 1 tsp.)
2/3 c. granulated sugar
pinch Kosher salt
6 Braeburn or similar apples (3 lbs. total), peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
about 2 tsp. light brown sugar
2 TBS unsalted butter, cut into about 12 – 16 pieces

Topping:
5 oz. (1 c.) all-purpose flour
1.75 oz. (1/4 c.) granulated sugar, plus 1 TBS for sprinkling on top
1.75 oz. (1/4 c.) light brown sugar
pinch Kosher salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract, optional (pretty sure I didn’t use any)
1/2 cup whole roasted, lightly salted almonds
1 stick unsalted butter, divided

Method:
Preheat oven to 325°F.

Topping:
Process flour, sugars, and salt. Add vanilla, if using, and pulse until combined. Add almonds and process until finely chopped. Add 6 TBS butter & process until butter is in pea-sized pieces. Turn mixture out onto baking sheet lined with Silpat or parchment paper and knead with heel of hand, as with puff pastry, until mixture clumps into large, crumbly balls. Spread mixture into even layer (there will be some small, sand-like bits along with mostly large crumbs about 1/2″ to 1″ in size). Set aside.

Filling:
Combine cornstarch, lemon juice, cinnamon, granulated sugar, and salt in large bowl. Stir to combine. Add apples and toss to coat; mixture will thicken. Pour into 8×8″ glass baking dish and smooth top. Sprinkle brown sugar over filling. Dot pieces of butter evenly across top of filling. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake both topping and filling at 325°F for 15 minutes. Remove crumb mixture (it should be lightly browned and firm; if not, bake for a few more minutes) and set aside on wire rack to cool completely. Increase heat to 350°; remove apples only briefly to stir, then bake them at 350°F for 15 minutes. Remove apples briefly to stir; increase heat to 375°F and bake apples for another 15 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and bake at 375°F, uncovered, for about 12 additional minutes, or until apples are starting to bubble in dish and are tender when poked with a fork.

Reduce oven heat to 350°F. Meanwhile, scatter crumb topping evenly over apples. Sprinkle 1 TBS white sugar over topping and bake about 20 minutes, or until tips of crumb topping (but not the entirety of each crumb) is golden brown and fruit is bubbling around edges. Cool 15 minutes on wire rack; serve with ice cream, whipped cream, and / or butterscotch (or caramel) sauce.

Source: Heavily adapted from Cook’s Illustrated (paid content)

Instant Pot Balsamic Beef Short Ribs

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I would like to introduce you to the most delicious savory meal I’ve ever had. Totally serious!

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And it came about serendipitously. I learned that there was a Sur La Table in our vicinity, a store which for years I’d been dying to visit ever since seeing a contestant on US Hell’s Kitchen blow $1,000 there on a shopping spree. It looked like heaven with whisks! My husband and I made a beeline there, and I honestly wondered where that store had been all my life. We were there to purchase our first ever roasting pan (hell yeah!!), and as we stood at the checkout line, we mentioned to the clerk that we were going to use this pan to cook our new short ribs. My husband had seen the ribs earlier that week and purchased them on a whim; neither of us really knew what to do with them, but whatever it was destined to be, it would be beefy.

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The nice man behind the counter understood beefy. Oh, he understood it very well.

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He shared with us his beefy wisdom, as a matter of fact. Instead of roasting the short ribs, we could… cook them in an Instant Pot! My husband and I were enlightened. As it so happens, Sur La Table is the store of cookery enlightenment. (And it sells Valrhona, my favourite chocolate! Hallelujah!) We have an Instant Pot, but we mainly use it to prepare chili. We’d heard whispers that you could use the Instant Pot for exotic things like cheesecakes, but short ribs? Where do we sign?!

 

The clerk shared with us that there is even a cookbook for just such things: Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook. Not the most romantic title, but it gets the point across. The clerk pointed us to this balsamic short ribs recipe, and we went home with our roasting pan (roasted chicken, here we come!) and a new recipe to try. (We bought the cookbook a couple of weeks later, and I gotta say, it has some tasty looking recipes in there that will be making their way onto this blog!)

 

This is my favourite beef recipe, EVER, hands down. The balsamic vinegar, the tomatoes, and the red wine (something we added to the recipe, which doesn’t mention red wine) infuse into some kind of richness that is hard to describe. It doesn’t taste like vinegar, and it doesn’t taste like tomato. It tastes like the essence of meat, like the best spaghetti sauce you’ve ever had – times one million. It’s a bold, beefy red sauce that manages to convey delicately balanced herbal notes: There are many contributing flavour notes from thyme, bay leaves, and aromatics (mainly garlic and onion). We made this four times in one week because it’s so damned delicious.

If you don’t have an Instant Pot (or any pressure cooker), bring everything, including the meat, to a simmer in a Dutch oven after you’ve added the tomatoes and vinegar mixture. (See end of post for more detailed instructions for cooking this in a Dutch oven.) Cook in the Dutch oven at 300°F for 2 hours, or until the rib meat is tender and falling off the bones.

Note: This recipe fits an 8 quart Instant Pot. You’ll have to reduce the amounts in concert if you have a smaller pot.

Instant Pot Balsamic Beef Short Ribs

Ingredients:
Approximately 410 g. crushed tomatoes, either fresh or canned (if fresh, simply puree the tomatoes in a food processor)
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. red wine (Merlot works well here), divided
8 sprigs fresh thyme
3 – 6 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 onion, cut into quarters or eighths
whole baby potatoes (around a dozen), optional
either baby or whole carrots (chop off ends of whole carrots and scrub; it isn’t necessary to chop them), optional
Olive oil, for sauteeing
5 lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Method:
If using fresh tomatoes, puree them in a food processor.

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Combine balsamic vinegar, water, and half the red wine; add thyme sprigs and bay leaves and set aside.

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Smash garlic and chop onion and, if using other vegetables, prepare them as desired. Set aside.

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Heat oil in a large sautee pan (12″ minimum; we sometimes use a 17″ cast iron skillet) until just starting to smoke. Meanwhile, pat short ribs dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

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Brown ribs in batches and transfer to a large bowl; you’ll want to reserve the juices from this.

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Add smashed garlic to sautee pan and deglaze with about 1/4 cup red wine. Cook garlic for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

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Add tomatoes and vinegar mixture (including thyme sprigs and bay leaves); stir to combine thoroughly. If we’re using the cast iron pan, we add the short ribs and onions at this point and let everything cook together for a few minutes until it reaches a simmer. We deglaze the pan with red wine if needed at this stage.

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If not using larger pan, don’t add onions or ribs yet and instead transfer mixture to Instant Pot. Add onions and short ribs, including any accumulated juices. If using additional vegetables, place on top of ribs.

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Lock lid (make sure it’s not set to ‘Venting’!) and press ‘Manual.’ Cook on high pressure for 45 minutes. Use the ‘Quick Release’ method (set the lid to ‘Venting’).

The bones will practically fall out of the ribs. You can either serve them on plates with a drizzle of sauce, or in bowls with lots of sauce in the form of a stew.

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Method without pictures:
If using fresh tomatoes, puree them in a food processor. Combine balsamic vinegar, water, and half the red wine; add thyme sprigs and bay leaves and set aside.

Smash garlic and chop onion and, if using other vegetables, prepare them as desired. Set aside.

If using Dutch oven method: Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat oil in a 5 quart Dutch oven until just starting to smoke.

If using Instant Pot: Heat oil in a 5 quart Dutch oven large sautee pan (12″ minimum; we sometimes use a 17″ cast iron skillet) until just starting to smoke.

Meanwhile, pat short ribs dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Brown ribs in batches and transfer to a large bowl; you’ll want to reserve the juices from this.

Add smashed garlic to pan and deglaze with about 1/4 cup red wine. Cook garlic for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant.

Add tomatoes and vinegar mixture (including thyme sprigs and bay leaves); stir to combine thoroughly. At this stage:

If using Dutch oven, add short ribs and onions (deglaze pan with red wine if needed). Bring everything to a simmer and cook in a 300°F oven for about 2 hours, or until beef is literally falling off the bones.

If using Instant pot, transfer mixture from sautee pan to Instant Pot.* Add onions and short ribs, including any accumulated juices. If using additional vegetables, place on top of ribs.

*If we’re sauteeing in the cast iron pan, we add the short ribs and onions at this point and let everything cook together for a few minutes until it reaches a simmer. We deglaze the pan with red wine if needed at this stage. We then transfer everything to the Instant Pot.

Lock lid (make sure it’s not set to ‘Venting’!) and press ‘Manual.’ Cook on high pressure for 45 minutes. Use the ‘Quick Release’ method (set the lid to ‘Venting’).

The bones will practically fall out of the ribs. You can either serve them on plates with a drizzle of sauce, or in bowls with lots of sauce in the form of a stew.

Source: Adapted from Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook (2017) by Sara Quessenberry & Kate Merker