Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lemony Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake

Funny the food you come up with because you need to use up some random ingredient. For me, it always seems to happen when I have buttermilk in my fridge. It would be so wonderful if the companies that package it would come up with a little carton--like the size of the ones that held milk at my elementary school cafeteria. But they don't and I hate to waste so then I'm off and running (often back to the market) to make something else with the remaining buttermilk.

As a result of recent cornbread with buttermilk, I had most of a pint left. I brined chicken with some but still have a good amount remaining. I started randomly googling buttermilk and saw cakes. Oh. How about pound cake? Oh, but all that butter (which I love, but still). Well then, how about substituting olive oil for the butter? (And does that mean it's no longer a pound cake?) I have a bumper crop of Meyer lemons so I could add lemon zest to the batter and, ah, that gorgeous bottle of homemade vanilla that Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared gave me. That would taste wonderful.

As you can see I was off and running. I did a little research to get a sense of how much oil I needed to substitute for the butter and it was just a matter of mixing it all together--then sprinkling some sugar on the top of the batter to get a nice crispy crunchy top.

All this is to say that if you're a home cook who feels comfortable riffing on chicken dishes or pasta dishes but believes you have to go strictly by the book with cakes, well, I'm like you--but I can now say I feel more comfortable taking some liberties with baking recipes.

The cake rose tall in the large loaf pan and was wonderfully moist. It had a nice lemony aroma and flavor. The buttermilk complemented the citrus with its tangy flavor and richness. For those who haven't had a great experience baking with olive oil, I guess it depends on what kind of olive oil you use. A young, very grassy oil may give you a little too much bitterness. But a more mature oil is actually more buttery in flavor and plays well in a cake--and, especially this cake.

You'll get a lot of slices out of this and it is rich. The good news is that it also freezes well.

And take advantage of the season but mashing ripe berries, adding a little Cointreau and sugar (if necessary) to top the cake slice when you serve it.

Lemony Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake
(printable recipe)
Yield: 1 loaf

13.5 ounces all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk
Baking spray
1 ½ tablespoons sugar


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Place sugar, olive oil, and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer and beat at medium speed until thoroughly blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after adding each one.  Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture.

Spoon batter into a large (9 ½” by 5 ½”) loaf pan, coated with baking spray. Sprinkle top with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Cool pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then run a thin knife around the edges of the pan and remove the cake. Continue cooling on the wire rack until it reaches room temperature.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole

It's so easy for contemporary home cooks who consider themselves sophisticated in the kitchen to poo poo casseroles. Many of us grew up in the days of tuna embalmed in noodles and Campbell's mushroom soup. Or macaroni and ground beef. Yeah, we've all been there.

But think of it this way: lasagna is essentially a casserole and we all love lasagna. It's really a matter of what you do with the concept, which is basically a meal in a baking dish. For some, it's a way to use up leftover ingredients. For others, it's the quintessential dish you bring with love to friends or family who are too stressed (from grief, illness, new babies) to be able to make meals themselves.

I got to thinking about this recently when I saw a piece on casseroles in The Kitchn. They ran a list of casserole links and what was interesting was that recipes not only described how to prepare the dish but in advance of that, how to prep the ingredients for freezing and provide instructions to the recipient for then making it.

One of those recipes struck a chord with me. It was baked chicken with rice. Once I sorted through the freezing instructions, which I didn't need, I realized that this was a casserole I could fall in love with. After all, it takes two dishes I really enjoy--roasted or baked chicken and grains filled with vegetables and herbs and spices. All this does it put them together in an easy-to-make, one-dish dish.

Like all great casseroles, you can change this up, depending on the season or the ingredients you have or prefer. I happened to be at Specialty Produce recently and they had elephant garlic scapes. These are a rare find so I nabbed what I thought I could use (I usually make pesto with scapes) and decided to add some to my casserole, along with mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, and onion.

You could add sliced kalamata olives and capers for one specific flavor profile. Or you could go in a totally different direction with tomatillos, fresh poblano or Anaheim chiles. Or eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, pine nuts, and za'atar. Cooking for one? I am--I easily cut this recipe in half for two meals. I just used a smaller baking dish.

So, use this as a foundation for building your own one-dish wonder. I hope you'll share with me what you came up with.

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole
(printable recipe)
Serves 2 to 4

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup of your favorite vinaigrette
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
½ cup garlic cloves sliced (or, when in season, garlic scapes)
1 cup marinated artichoke heart quarters
2 cups brown rice
¼ cup wheat berries, wild rice, farro, or other grains
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups water, white wine, or chicken broth, depending on your preference

1. The day before you make the dish, combine the chicken thighs and vinaigrette in a freezer bag. Seal and massage the bag to coat the chicken. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
3. Grease a 9X13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
4. Combine the vegetables, grains, and herbs and spices in the baking dish. Stir in the liquids. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag and place them on top of the grains mixture.
5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the dish and bake for up to another hour. You want the grains to have absorbed the liquid and the chicken to be cooked through with crispy skin.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Herb & Eatery's GF Almond and Walnut Coffee Cake

One thing you learn about pastry chefs: they are all about precision. Case in point. I was with pastry chef Adrian Mendoza of Herb & Eatery last week so he could teach me how to make his Gluten-Free Almond and Walnut Coffee Cake. We got to talking about the kitchen and he told me a story about a new pastry assistant who came to work. When it came time to label a batch of pastries, she automatically ripped off a piece of masking tape to write on with her sharpie. Nope. Mendoza told her she needed to use a scissors to cut the tape. Apparently, she laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn't.

"I know it seems like a small thing," he acknowledged. "But I'm meticulous about what I do and those details create discipline in the kitchen, which you need in baking. So, yeah, I had her go back and cut the label with scissors."

Mendoza grew up in Apple Valley, California. He didn't grow up cooking, although he enjoyed watching his mom. But once he got into high school he attended after school cooking classes from 3 to 7 p.m. three to four times a week.

"I loved it," he said. "But I didn't think about becoming a chef. Actually I was thinking of becoming a mechanical drafter. I loved the precision. I remember learning how to build bridges from toothpicks."

But when Mendoza graduated from high school, he decided to leave home for San Diego to attend the Art Institute's cooking program. It was a choice, he said, of working behind a desk all day or being able to move around and produce something creative that people would enjoy. He also got a job at MacDonald's--on Aero Drive. There, he said, he learned about organization skills and timing. And, he got a job working on the savory side at Oceanaire, which is where he met Chef Brian Malarkey, whom he works for now and at Malarkey's previous restaurants.

Mendoza also took some time to go to L.A. to work, including a one-year stint at Spago plating desserts. A bakery then hired him, and sent him to France for two weeks to train on equipment.

"That's where I got really in depth with croissants and baguettes," he said. In fact, Joanne Sherif of Cardamom Cafe and Bakery, whom he worked for part time while he was working at Oceanaire, told me recently that she thinks he makes the best croissants in San Diego--and they are magnificent.

Today, Mendoza works with six assistants--a bread baker and five pastry assistants--along with an intern to produce a wealth of breads, croissants, bagels, bialies, and sweets for both Herb & Eatery and Herb & Wood. The morning I was there, his assistants were working on a huge batch of Sea Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. Earlier in the morning there were loaves upon loaves of challahs--both plain and topped with spices. They were almost gone by the time I was ready to leave a couple of hours later. I was able to snare one small plain one and a bagel--a really great bagel, in fact.

But what I was there for was the coffee cake. Now I'm not gluten free so I didn't care about that aspect of it, but I love a good coffee cake. The fact that it is gluten free makes it that much more interesting in terms of baking science. Mendoza uses Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, which is easily found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Amazon, and Sur la Table. That means if you aren't interested in baking this cake gluten free you can simply use all-purpose flour in the same measurements. He also adds almond flour or almond meal, which, he says, acts as a tenderizer. You can buy it or grind it yourself from almonds.

The cake is pretty easy to make, but it has three distinct components. There's the cake batter, the streusel center--with walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon--and a crumble top--with butter flour, sugar, and sea salt.

We started with the crumble. Mendoza used a food processor (but you could use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment). It's a simple process of combining the dry ingredients in the bowl and pulse until combined, then adding the butter and pulsing until the mixture forms pea-sized pieces. Put the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

Then we moved on to the streusel center. You'll want to toast the walnuts to bring out the flavor. Don't care for walnuts? Not a problem. Use pecans or pine nuts or cashews. Or a mix. Again, you'll combine the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse about 20 times until the walnuts are about 1/4" pieces. Put that aside.

Okay, so then it was time for the cake batter. We switched to a Kitchen Aid mixer. Our butter was at room temperature and, as you can imagine, all the ingredients were already measured and waiting. First you'll cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla, starting on low for about 20 seconds and then amping it up to medium high for four minutes. What you're doing, Mendoza explained, is building air to help absorb the eggs. Your key to completion is light and fluffy butter and sugar.

And, by the way, you'll notice that Mendoza uses crème fraiche in the batter. He doesn't buy it, of course. He makes it. It's just two ingredients--cream and buttermilk. If you want to make it yourself, use a 4 to 1 ratio of cream to buttermilk and leave it on the counter, covered, for two days at room temperature. You'll have a terrific, tangy sour cream.

Back to the batter: While the butter, sugar, and vanilla are creaming, sift together all the dry ingredients but the almond flour (over parchment paper so you can pick it up and use it as a funnel to add to the wet ingredients. Once, the dry ingredients are sifted, you can add the almond flour on top. Put that aside and--once the butter mixture is fluffy--add the eggs, one at a time, stopping and scraping down the mixture with each egg. Then you'll add a third of the dry ingredients, mix on low briefly, then add half of the crème fraiche, then the dry ingredients, the rest of the crème fraiche, and then the rest of the dry ingredients--scraping down with each addition. Don't over mix the batter or it will turn gummy.

We're almost there; it's all assembly now. You can make the cakes in muffin pans, as we did, or cast iron pans (which will take a little longer to bake). Whatever you choose, butter the pans (Mendoza uses a spray product called Vegalene, which is gluten free). You can also use cupcake liners.

To add the batter you can use a spoon or ice cream scoop--or a pastry bag, which Mendoza used. He uses KopyKake disposable bags (Amazon sells them). Place a 1/8" layer of the batter at the bottom. Then a small handful--about a tablespoon or two--of the streusel over that. The another thin layer of batter followed by a couple of tablespoons of the crumble topping.

Bake in a 350° oven for about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden dark brown.

I have to say that gluten free or not, this is a terrific coffee cake. The cake itself is moist and you'd never know that alternative flours were used. You get a fun surprise in the middle with a bite of the streusel--and I'm all about a good crumble. The cake just works. I brought some to my mom and she loved it. It's a hugely popular menu item at Herb & Eatery, but Mendoza told me the staff does give customers a heads up that while they do their best to segregate their gluten-free baked goods from their conventional wheat pastries, there is always a risk of cross contamination of flours in the air. If that's an issue, be forewarned. If not, enjoy!

GF Almond and Walnut Coffee Cake
from Adrian Mendoza of Herb & Eatery
(printable recipe)

1 stick plus 1 ½ tablespoon butter, cold, ½" cubes
½ cup Cup4Cup gluten-free flour
½ cup almond flour or almond meal
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoons sea salt

1. Combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the blade attachment or in the bowl of the kitchen aid fitted with the beater attachment.
2. Process until combined.
3. Add the butter and pulse or mix on low until they are pea-size pieces.
4. Place into a mixing bowl, cover, and keep under refrigeration.

Streusel Center:
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted at 325° for 10 minutes
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

1. In the same bowl of the processor, combine all ingredients and pulse about 20 times until the walnuts are ¼" pieces.
2. Set aside.

Cake Batter:
1 ½ cup butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 extra large eggs, cage free
2 ½ cups Cup 4 Cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup almond flour or almond meal
1 ½ cups crème fraiche

1. In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract on low speed for 20 seconds.
2. Increase the speed to medium high and allow to blend for 4 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine the dry ingredients except the almond flour, and sift. Add the almond flour on top.
4. Scrape down the butter mixture and add the eggs in 1 by 1 scraping down after each addition.
5. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mix on low for 10 seconds, add ½ of the crème fraiche and, scraping down after each addition. Repeat until you finish adding the in dry ingredients.

To Assemble:

1. Spray pans well or can line with cup cake paper.
2. Place batter into pastry bag and snip a ½ “ tip or can use a spoon.
3. Place a 1/8th inch layer of batter first.
4. Place 1-2 tbsp of walnut streusel.
5. Place another 1/8th to ¼” layer of batter on top.
6. Followed by 1-2 tbsp of crumble topping.
7. Bake in a 350F oven for approximately 30-35 minutes until golden dark brown.
8. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan before taking out, they are fragile.
9. Dust with powdered sugar or however you would like to decorate. A scoop of ice cream on top with fresh berries is a nice dessert.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

San Diego Jewish Food Festival

Looking for some good Jewish cooking? Well, Temple Adat Shalom in Poway will be hosting its biennial San Diego Jewish Food Festival this Sunday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Featured at this fundraiser for the synagogue will be Chef Deborah Scott of The Cohen Restaurant Group, Chef Ron Oliver of the Marine Room, Noor Amiri of Pamir Kabob House, and Chef Nicoletta Grippo. All four will do cooking demos during the course of the event.

There will be a number of food booths overflowing with traditional foods, along with a Beer and Wine Garden.

The Sabbath Dinner Booth will include:

  • Pomegranate Chicken – boneless chicken sautéed in a pomegranate reduction with figs, yams, carrots and almonds served with your choice of Majadrah or Potato/Carrot/Apple kugel
  • Cabbage Rolls - (2) beef stuffed cabbage leaves simmered in a sweet & sour, tomato-based sauce served with your choice of Majadrah or potato/Carrot/Apple kugel 
  • Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls - with chunks of chicken, carrots and a fluffy matzo ball 


  • Israeli Salad – diced tomatoes and cucumbers, scallions, red & yellow bell peppers and parsley combined with a drizzled dressing of lemon juice, olive oil 
  • Potato/Carrot/Apple Kugel – a sweet baked dairy-free pudding 
  • Fresh baked homemade Challah, ~ 1 pound loaf - also available in the Bakery 

The Israeli Booth will include:

  • Falafel –freshly fried patties of ground chickpeas, served with Middle Eastern bread, Israeli salad, and tahini sauce
  • Hummus with Middle Eastern Bread – mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic
  • Majadrah – Middle Eastern, cumin-scented side dish with rice, lentils and caramelized onions
  • Israeli Salad diced tomatoes and cucumbers, scallions, red & yellow bell peppers and parsley combined with a drizzled dressing of lemon juice, olive oil


The Kosher Grill will include:

  • Grilled Flank Steak rubbed with a special mix and served with grilled peppers and onions on a roll
  • Kafta sliders - Middle Eastern mini beef burgers mixed with chopped onions and Middle Eastern spices served on a mini bun
  • Regular slider - mini beef burger served on a mini bun 
  • Potato chips 
  • Hebrew National Hot Dog on a toasted bun served with potato chips 

The New York Deli booth will include:
  • Corned Beef on Rye, pickle– 6 oz salt-cured brisket of beef ½ or whole sandwich
  • Pastrami on Rye, pickle–6 oz. brined, seasoned, and then smoked beef belly  ½ or whole sandwich
  • Chopped Liver on Rye – chopped chicken liver, w/hard boiled eggs and onions  ½ or whole sandwich 
  • Combo 1/2 and 1/2 – choice of any 2 half sandwiches (corned beef, pastrami or chopped liver) with pickle 

The Nosh Kart booth will include:
  • Potato Knish – seasoned mashed potato, caramelized onion filling encased in a flakey, puffed pastry shell 
  • Cheese Blintzes - (2) Cheese-filled crepes, garnished with berry sauce and sour cream 
  • Dairy Kugel  – a baked, creamy noodle pudding 
  • Potato Latke – large potato pancake served with apple sauce and/or sour cream 

Bubbie's Bakery Booth will include:
  • Black & White Cookies – soft, cake-like cookie with vanilla and dark chocolate icing
  • Hamantashen – a tri-corner “hat” cookie filled with apricot or chocolate 
  • Rugelach – crescent shaped, cookie, w/cinnamon, nuts, raisins, apricot jam 3 for (no added sugar variety also available) 
  • Strudel – baked this morning, a slice of traditional Eastern European pastry filled with apples, nuts and raisins 
  • Freda’s Walnut Chocolate Chip Brot – a toasted nut and chocolate cookie, similar to biscotti 
  • Allison’s Rainbow Cookies – found in the Jewish deli’s and bakeries of New York this is our take on an Italian specialty – a chocolate covered Technicolor cake-like treat 
  • Chocolate Coconut Macaroons – a gluten-free treat, a favorite at the Passover table. 
  • Challah - homemade braided egg bread, an essential part of the Sabbath dinner. ~1 pound whole loaf
  • Coffee 
JFF tickets can be purchased at the Temple Adat Shalom office or at the Festival May 7th. The $20 JFF food ticket includes one paid adult admission, $20 worth of food, and an entry for the opportunity drawing. $60 JFF Family Pack ($80 in food, admission for two adults and up to 4 young adults (ages 13 to 20) are available. There's no admission fee for kids who are 12 and under, when accompanied by an adult. Food booths can't accept cash. All food purchases at the 2017 San Diego Jewish Food Festival must use official San Diego Jewish Food Festival Punch Tickets.

Temple Adat Shalom is located at 15905 Pomerado Road in Poway.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Roasted Marinated Peppers

Somehow I got myself on a cooking and baking tear this past weekend. It all started with buttermilk. You see, my mom and I have these family friends who weren't feeling great so we decided to make them some meals last weekend. One was a simple turkey chili. My mom then said, "We should make cornbread to go with it. Buttermilk cornbread." And that was fine. But you have to buy a pint and all you need is like half a cup. So now I have this pint of buttermilk I'm trying to use up.

I started scouring recipes for something and found cakes and pies. So I decided to try my hand at a buttermilk pound cake. I came up with something pretty cool (that's for next week). Then I brined chicken in the buttermilk, along with garlic and some spices.

And with that I was in a cooking frenzy. I have a story coming out this week in the San Diego Union-Tribune's food section on my friend Chef Sara Polczynski showing readers how to use three different types of Mexican kitchen tools so I made one of the recipes using a comal--her Smoked Tomatillo Salsa.

And, finally, I pulled out some extra peppers I had from buying for the turkey chili and made my favorite roasted, marinated peppers. I have to have these peppers in my fridge. Not only do I love them on a slice of sourdough baguette, garlicky oil dripping off the bread, but also as a pizza topping or to add to a tomato sauce. By the time I use up the peppers, they've insinuated themselves into the olive oil I used to marinate them. And then I have this reddish spicy (from marash pepper flakes) oil redolent of anchovies to enjoy on a crostini or bruschetta, to sauté vegetables (try it with asparagus), or toss with pasta.

Now it doesn't seem possible that I actually haven't written about these before since they're such a recurring part of my personal eating habits. But I couldn't find them. After 10 years I guess I'm allowed a repeat, so if you have seen these my apologies. But oh, these are great, especially as we head into the warmer months.

I don't use any real recipe. This is sort of free form. So, here's what I do.

Wash three or four bell peppers--red, green, yellow, orange--it doesn't matter. If you have an electric stove, turn on the broiler. Dry and place on a large piece of foil, then place in the broiler. Use tongs to turn them as the skin blisters. If you have a gas stove, you can simply dry roast them over a burner.

When they are totally blackened, place in a brown paper bag and fold down the top. Place on the kitchen counter and let steam for about 15 or 20 minutes. While they're steaming get out a head of garlic and separate four or five cloves (or however many you want). Peel and slice the garlic cloves. You'll also want to have sea salt, dried herbs, red pepper flakes or marash pepper flakes (or whatever you like), and a jar of anchovies (if they are salt packed, rinse off the salt).

Peel the skin from the peppers, remove the core, and brush away the seeds. Dry them (this part gets juicy) and slice into 1" wide pieces.

Now you can start layering. In a flat container with a lid (I use one that's about 5" by 7"), place the bottom layer of peppers, sprinkle some sliced garlic over the peppers, sprinkle with salt, pepper flakes, herbs, and anchovies. Repeat until you run out of pepper slices. Sprinkle with the rest of the herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt. Now get out some great olive oil and pour over the layers until they are totally covered. Let sit about an hour on the counter, then refrigerate.

Now a couple of tips:

1. When you roast and steam the peppers, really let them steam and cool down so you can handle them and not be tempted to run them under cool water when you peel away the skin. Do that and you basically rinse away the flavor.

2. Feel free to change up the flavors. Sometimes I include dried herbs like thyme or oregano. I love to include this herb rub. If you make and use it, you won't need any extra salt. Use more or less garlic. I love garlic, so I put in plenty. Don't like anchovies? Don't use them. You could also add some vinegar, but keep it mild--like a white wine vinegar--so it doesn't overpower the peppers.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Jill O'Connor's Chocolate Mayonnaise Layer Cake with Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting

You probably have a great job. At least you think you do. But you're not Jill O'Connor. You see, Jill O'Connor is a pastry chef who writes dessert cookbooks for a living. She's written six--the latest, published in 2009, is Sticky, Chewy, Messy Gooey Treats for Kids. And next month, number seven debuts: Cake, I Love You: Decadent, Delectable, and Do-able Recipes. In between her books, Jill develops recipes and writes for a variety of publications, including The San Diego Union-Tribune's food section.

Imagine a life of making sweet treats that bring joy to others. That's pretty much Jill's world. And, knowing Jill as I do, it all comes from the heart.

Jill invited me to her house recently to make one of the cakes in the book. I figured that since San Diego Foodstuff is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year I needed as much cake as possible to make that feel real. Imagine the wealth of choices I had--from her Coconut Fudge Snow-Ball to Blood Orange Ricotta Pound Cake--Jill offered me a few choices.

This Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting was clearly the winning choice. Chocolate. Chocolate with Mayonnaise. And Chocolate Bar Frosting? Whew!

Sounds decadent and difficult, right? In fact, yes, it is decadent if you adore chocolate. But, says Jill, "This is what I would call an after-school cake." Meaning it's accessible to the home baker.

Now Jill writes a great recipe. Everything is clear and straightforward. But it was wonderful to be with her in her kitchen in Coronado to pick up some of her cake making and layer cake frosting tips. Let's face it. Baking a cake can be pretty easy if you follow the recipe. But the skill involved in making the layers even and then frosting it? That's an art. And I wanted to learn that art from the master.

As Jill set up her Kitchen Aid stand mixer and began to mix the liquid cake ingredients she gave me her first tip: always add sugar slowly to eggs. Why? Doing this in reverse will burn the eggs. Who knew?

Now you may be wondering about the mayo and why it's in the recipe. This is actually a pretty common ingredient going back to the 1930s and 40s when butter and eggs were being rationed because of World War II. It basically was an accessible and economical fat substitute for baking.

Another tip Jill employs is adding a bit of coffee to chocolate. You may already do this or have heard about this trick. No, you won't get coffee flavor with such a small amount, but what it does is enhance the flavor of the chocolate.

Let's talk cocoa for a moment. Be sure to read the label when you reach for a container. What you do not want is Dutch processed cocoa. Here's why, according to Jill: Baking soda, which is in this recipe as a leavening agent, needs something acidic to make it work to activate its leavening power. If you add too much acid (such as what's in Dutch processed cocoa) you'll get a salty soapy taste. Instead, Jill uses Hersey's Dark Special Process cocoa.

Once you have mixed the batter, if it seems too thick, Jill says you can thin it with boiling water--just a little at a time to come to the right consistency. You also want to eliminate any lumps, so whisk until they're all gone.

Now, you could bake this as a sheet cake, but it makes for a gorgeous layer cake. So, you'll want two round cake pans, sprayed with Pam or some other nonstick cooking spray. Then you'll line the bottom with parchment paper. Split the batter evenly between the two pans and give them some sharp taps to eliminate any bubbles. If you're really concerned about whether you've evenly divided the batter, go ahead and weigh each filled pan on a digital scale.

Okay, now it's time to focus on the frosting. If you're the type who plans ahead, Jill suggests making it the day before so it can sit and thicken naturally overnight.

Jill calls this a chocolate bar frosting, but she's actually not using chocolate bars. "It's chocolate bar like because I use milk chocolate chips," she explains.

The frosting calls for powdered sugar. You can add more than what's listed in the recipe if you want a firmer texture and sweeter flavor.

The recipe for the frosting is pretty straightforward. But what you really want to know is how to get it on the cake so that you have something irresistibly gorgeous and not like you're five-years-old. This is how you do that.

First, place the cake on something higher than the counter, like a cake plate but it could also be a large upside down mixing bowl--and the cake itself should be on a cake board, which is stiff and lets you more easily maneuver it. You can find cake boards at Michael's.

Now, using an offset spatula, you spread on a "crumb coat." Basically, it's a thin coat of frosting that covers the crumbs "like spackle," Jill says.

Then it's the moment of truth. You glide on that luxuriant second coat of frosting all over the cake.

Still listing a bit? Take a cue from Jill, who does experience this from time to time. "Toss on chocolate sprinkles," she says. "It's like a cake bra. It helps hold it in place and creates a visual camouflage."

That's just what she did with our cake. And it was the source of one last trick. To put the sprinkles on the cake, place them in a large bowl. Carefully hold the cake over the bowl by the cake board. Using your free hand, grab a handful of sprinkles and gently press into the side of the cake, letting the excess fall back into the bowl. Turn the cake little by little and repeat until you've covered the sides with the sprinkles.

That's it! Oh, except for digging in. The cake itself is a marvel. It's moist and slices beautifully. It has the most sumptuous chocolate flavor--not too sweet but definitely satisfying for the sweet tooth. Make it for your kids to enjoy after school or impress your friends at a dinner party.

Cake, I Love You will be published on May 23. It's available for pre-order on Amazon.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting
From Jill O’Connor and her book Cake, I Love You: Decadent, Delectable, and Do-able Recipes

I am always looking for an easy-to-bake cake that’s good enough to make an ordinary Wednesday feel special. This chocolate cake is luxuriously rich, yet with a surprisingly light texture. The batter is versatile and sturdy enough to be baked in a 9x13-inch pan for an everyday celebration, or into two 9-inch round cake pans if the occasion calls for a layer cake instead. Mayonnaise cakes were popularized in the late 1930’s by Hellman’s Mayonnaise as a more economical substitution for butter and eggs. Since mayonnaise is simply an emulsion of eggs and oil with a dash of vinegar, it works beautifully. This cake is tasty enough to eat plain, but I prefer to slather it with Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting; it takes 5 minutes to whip together from pantry staples and all you really need is a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a strong arm. 

Yield: One 9- by-13-inch cake, or 9-inch round double-layer cake

2 cups all purpose flour
¾ cup natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mayonnaise (do not use low-fat)
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or coffee powder
1 1/3 cups boiling water

Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Large pinch fine sea salt
2 to 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray a metal 9- by-13 inch sheet pan (or two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. (If using round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.)

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and eggs together at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Beat in the mayonnaise and the vanilla until smooth.

Lower the mixer speed to its lowest speed and beat in 1/2 the dry ingredients just until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together the espresso powder with the boiling water.  Add 1/2 of the espresso mixture to the batter and beat on low speed just until the batter is smooth, about 5 to 10 seconds. Add the remaining dry ingredients and beat just until combined.  Beat in the remaining espresso and beat just until smooth. The batter will be somewhat thin.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan (s) and bake 22 to 25 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely.

For the frosting: In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine the semisweet and milk chocolate chips with the butter.  Heat on high power for 1 minute. Stir together until the butter and chocolates are completely melted and smooth.  If not completely melted after 1 minute, heat again in 15-second increments, stirring until smooth. Use a large balloon whisk or a wooden spoon and stir in the sour cream.  Beat in add 2 cups [xx g] confectioners’ sugar, just until smooth and spreadable.  If a thicker, sweeter frosting is desired, beat in an additional cup of sugar.

Spread the top of the cooled cake with the Melted Chocolate Bar Frosting. Cut into squares and serve. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil, and store at room temperature. The cake will stay fresh for about 2 days.  (For layer cake: place one layer on a cake stand and frost the top with about 1 cup frosting. Top with second layer and spread the remaining frosting on the top and around the sides of the cake.)

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Evie's Lemon Cake

"Dump cake." I only just discovered this term in the last couple of years. Before that there were cakes you made using a cake mix and cakes made by scratch. When I was growing up, my grandmother Tillie and mother, Evie, made both and they had equally revered places on the dining table.

But now it's no longer PC to make cakes from mixes and those cakes--perhaps derisively or because they represent the ease of dumping all of the ingredients into a single bowl--are referred to as dump cakes. And you know what? I still love them! In fact my cousin, who is a chef, recently shared an index card recipe for an intensely chocolate dump cake her mom made, which I'll share in the future.

This lemon sheet cake apparently qualifies as a dump cake. Despite my exposure to some great pastry chefs and my love of chocolate, this is the one cake I love most. So does everyone in my family. Kids coming into town? Make the lemon cake. Need an easy dessert to serve friends coming over? Make the lemon cake. It's moist, lemony--of course--and has this fab tart glaze of powder sugar, lemon juice, and butter that crackles on top while the rest works its way into the still hot cake to make it ridiculously moist and even more lemony. It's our family's object of perfection. It's like a big hug from my mom. While she didn't create it all those decades ago, I associate it with her. And it's something my siblings and I learned how to make when we were young kids.

Last Christmas I brought over chocolates to my next door neighbors, a family that includes a set of young twins, Gunner and Harper, and their older sister, Helena. But I learned to my mortification that eight-year-old Helena hates chocolate. How someone can hate chocolate is another topic for another time but the fact remained that I had brought a gift that repulsed one of the recipients.

What did Helena like? Lemon. Ohhhh. I could work with this. I asked her if she enjoyed baking and her eyes lit up. Okay. I could fix this. "Helena," I asked, "would you like to come over this week and make a lemon cake with me?"


Helena was walked over by her dad later that week and we got to work. She was a great helper, eager to dig in. And, of course, this is the perfect recipe to get kids to help in the kitchen. I can't think of a way you can screw it up, plus they learn how to break eggs, zest a lemon, measure liquids and dry ingredients, and control an electric hand mixer without splattering the batter all over (although you can certainly make it in your stand mixer or even stir it by hand). And then there's this divine cake at the end. You can see how proud she was of her achievement and she carried it home to her family.

So, feel free to judge me, but really, I have no problem with a dump cake.

Evie’s Lemon Cake
(printable recipe)


1 small package instant lemon pudding or lemon Jell-o
1 package lemon velvet cake (Mom uses Duncan Hines)
4 eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup water
Grated lemon zest from 1 lemon

2 cups powder sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoon cold water
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix cake ingredients in large bowl and beat with hand mixer for five minutes.
3. Pour into greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish (like Pyrex).
4. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.
5. While the cake is baking, mix together topping ingredients in a measuring cup to make it easier to pour.
6. When the cake comes out of oven, pierce it all over the top with a fork, then slowly pour the topping over the whole surface. You may have to wait a moment to let some of it soak into the cake before pouring the rest but use it all up. Slice and serve.

Note: This cake freezes very well. Wrap in plastic wrap and then place in a freezer bag or foil.

P.S. In an experiment coming soon (I hope), my friend, cookbook author Jill O'Connor, and I are actually going to try to turn this dump cake into a scratch cake. She's got some ideas about it so stay tuned.

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