26 November 2009

Chocolate tweed angel food cake

So I'm in a bookstore the other day, casually browsing the food section, thinking to myself, "I own too many cookbooks. I should get rid of some of the crappier cookbooks that I have before I buy another cookbook. I'll just look." Well, I opened Rose's Heavenly Cakes to the page of the Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake, and, well, I lost control. I already own her The Cake Bible so I didn't need to look at a single other recipe. I bought it. Full price (yup, ripoff - buy it at Amazon and pay half what I did). But I needed to make that cake for my wife that very evening. And I did.

The cake:
1 ½ cups superfine sugar
¾ cup cake flour
¼ tsp salt
16 large egg whites at room temperature
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 oz unsweetened, 99% cacao chocolate
First things first, grate 2 oz of unsweetened chocolate. I used Scharffen Berger's unsweetened, and grated it with my Microplane Grater/Zester. (Actually, the Microplane Zester belongs to my 3 ½ year old. When he was around 2, Dr. Ricky from The Doctor on Food came to visit and was surprised to find we didn't have one, so he purchased one for us and handed it to our son and told him it was for him. From then on, whenever it came out, my son would call out, "That's my Microplane Zester!" Indeed, I find it often goes more smoothly if I ask permission to use it.) Okay, so grate your unsweetened chocolate, and toss it in the fridge.


Sift together the flour, half of the sugar and the salt. Set aside. Sift the other half of the sugar into a separate container, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. The main trick with angel food cakes is to make sure your mixing bowl is clean (i.e. no traces of fat in there that would mess up your ability to beat the crap out of some egg whites). The other trick is to ensure that you don't get even a tiny bit of egg yolk in the egg whites. I break my eggs and separate the egg whites into a mug. This is a trick my Mom taught me. That way if you get a tiny bit of egg yolk into the whites you only ruin *one* egg white, not the whole batch.

Egg whites

Beat the egg whites...

Egg whites

...until light and frothy.

Fluffy egg whites

Add the cream of tartar, and beat until the eggs make light peaks.

Soft egg whites

Slowly beat in the sifted sugar until you get very stiff peaks.

Stiff egg whites

Clearly, I got out of hand. Because I took...

Stiff egg whites

... loads of photos of these cool-looking egg whites.

Stiff egg whites

Add the vanilla.

Vanilla & Whites

Beat in the vanilla.

Using a flat whisk, gently fold in the flour/sugar/salt mixture, ¼ of the mix at a time. The trick is to be gentle, and not disrupt the beautiful fluffiness of the egg whites. After you've mixed in all of the flour mix, gently fold in the grated chocolate.


Once folded in, pour the entire mix into a 16 cup Bundt pan. You needn't grease the pan for angel food cakes. Move a knife through the batter to get out any bubbles, then flatten the surface. Bake 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (this cake took me 45 minutes at sea level). Immediately remove the cake from the oven, and invert the pan. My Bundt pan has a long enough tube in the middle that I can set it upside down on a cooling rack and the cake is suspended above the rack without touching it. The author suggests placing the tube over a wine bottle, but I've never managed to figure out how to do that. Perhaps I need a better Bundt pan. Regardless, cool the cake upside down until it comes to room temperature. Then, run a knife around the outside of the cake and the inside of the tube, and slide the cake out of the pan gently.

It'll look delicious.


Quite honestly, you could stop here and serve it. You'd probably get rave reviews. But if you finish the last steps, you get the BIG WIN.

Chocolate-spangled whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp superfine sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 cup grated dark 60% bittersweet chocolate
½ cup finely ground almonds
Toast the almonds in a pan before grinding. You want to toast them just long enough to darken them and make them smell nice. Then run them through the grinder and measure ½ cup.

Beat the cream, sugar and vanilla until it makes nice peaks. Fold in the chocolate and the almonds.


Slice the cake into 3 layers. Slather the whipping cream mix between each layer, and assemble.

Assembling the cake

Just a thin layer of whipping cream is sufficient.

Assembling the cake

Now dress the outside of the cake.

And serve.

Chocolate tweed angel food cake

Watch as the crowd *raves* over this cake. Crazy good.

24 November 2009

Yakitori grilled salmon

For me, the main choice between barbecue and grilling is the level of commitment. On a day that's packed with activities (like work, for example), grilling is a lovely way to end the day. I would far rather spend all day smoking a piece of meat to perfection, but there are times when the rest of my life is too busy to be able to spend an entire day tending a fire.

So on a busy Saturday night, grilling a piece of salmon is the way to go, from start to dinner in less than an hour. Mix:
½ cup sake
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup mirin
2 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash of red chili pepper flakes
¼ cup white sugar
Marinate the salmon steak in a ziploc bag for 30 minutes, while you get your grill screaming hot.

Marinating salmon

I like to grill fish in a fish basket. It makes flipping the fish easier, and keeps it from falling apart on the grill.

Salmon on the grill

Cook for 6-10 minutes on a side. Or until it looks like this:

Grilled salmon

Delish. Serve with:

Kenneth Volk

19 November 2009

Crème brûlée

The first time my wife and I went to a nice restaurant together, we ordered crème brûlée. This was a revelation. The crisp top. The creamy perfect custard. It was pure genius. We had only been dating a couple of months, but she decided that I needed to learn how to make this for her. So for my birthday, a few weeks later, she purchased a teeny little kitchen torch and some blue ramekins.

This was 1999, mind you. They will come to be known as "the dark ages". No cooking blogs. No quality websites. And paging through old cookbooks, I couldn't find a good recipe that actually described the process. The ratios, sure. But how do you execute? This was an area where I suffered a number of enormous failures. Stirred custards that curdled. Oven custards that simply weren't the right consistency (I just don't like the consistency that oven custards hit). Burned sugar. And one, where it all looked perfect. The custard looked just right. The sugar was melted properly. And when my guests put their spoons through the melted sugar with a loud *crunch*, we noticed the pooled liquid underneath the custard. Gah.

With all of the right information, a crème brûlée doesn't have to be difficult. It's barely even time-consuming. And done properly, it's one of the best desserts ever. (Indeed, I'm quite convinced that anyone who doesn't *love* crème brûlée, hasn't had it done properly). So this year, on November 19th (the birthday of my wife), I give her crème brûlée.

egg yolks

(This recipe is modified from Debbie Puente's Elegantly Easy Creme Brulee: & Other Custard Desserts):
8 egg yolks
⅓ C granulated white sugar
2 C heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or 1 whole vanilla bean, slit lengthwise)
¼ C turbinado sugar
Warm the eggs to room temperature. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks until light yellow and foamy.

egg yolks

Slice the vanilla bean end to end, and scoop out the guts of the vanilla bean into the cream.


Drop the vanilla bean into the cream. Meanwhile, using a double boiler over low heat, warm the cream and white sugar until 140°F. Stir constantly. I use a silicone spatula, to scrape the bottom of the pan and ensure that nothing burns.

Now you need to temper the egg yolks. Basically, you're getting them ready for cooking so that they don't curdle. Add the warm milk, very slowly, to the mixing egg yolk. It's particularly important that the addition is slow at the beginning. You're making a cream/egg yolk emulsion, so go slow.

tempering eggs

Fish out the vanilla bean, then pour the mixture back into the double boiler. Warm slowly, *stirring constantly* until the temperature reaches 175°F. Warming slowly prevents the mixture from curdling. Once the temperature reaches 175°F - Take off heat immediately! It may break (get grainy, lumpy, icky) at any point during the heating. If so - Take off heat immediately!


But what if it breaks? Disaster? No! This is the crème brûlée secret of secrets (shhhhh). If the custard breaks and curdles, you can save it. Run it through a blender, very quickly, blending just until smooth.

Pour the custard into some heat-proof ramekins, and wipe off any spillage (this'll be important when you start flaming the custard). Cover the ramekins and place in the fridge overnight.


The next day, crush some turbinado sugar in a mortar and pestle until it's of a relatively fine consistency. This makes it much easier to get an even melted sugar, without burning it. Dust a layer of sugar ontu the custard, and gently knock the ramekin to get an even distribution of sugar on the surface. Fire up your torch. I prefer to use the teeny little butane kitchen torches, though only for one reason. The bigger propane torches get too hot, and soften the custard underneath. The wimpy butane torches take longer to melt the sugar, but the custard stays perfect.

Brush the flames of your torch across the sugar until it melts evenly. Keep the torch and the ramekin moving. If you're not coordinated, you'll burn yourself, so be careful (speaking from experience, here). Some of the sugar will turn brown, you want that. That's delicious caramelization going on.

Creme brulee

While the sugar is still melted, you can toss in a couple raspberries or a mint leaf or both. Otherwise, serve plain, or beside some punitions. Ramekins keep in the fridge up to a week, so make extra.

The perfect dessert. Happy birthday, beautiful.

16 November 2009

Dad's Cranberry Sauce


I was 25 before I ever tasted canned cranberry sauce. Jiggly. Bland. Gelatinous. Yuck. I can understand why cranberry sauce is an afterthought for most folks. In our home, it's a centerpiece.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were enormous food events for my family when I was a child. My mother would make turkey, gravy, corn, salad, broccoli, bubbat and pumpkin pie. My father would make cranberry sauce. Cranberry sauce was a religious thing for him. He would make enormous pots of the stuff, and wouldn't only serve it for holidays. Cranberry sauce was a year round thing for us. And rightly so! This cranberry sauce will change your life.

Dad's cranberry sauce started with the recipe in the old version of the Joy of Cooking, but was refined to be less sweet and more bright. I think you'll amaze your guests with this recipe:

Sort the cranberries. While they ship well, I find fresh cranberries often contain as much as one fifth rotten berries. Wash them and measure them.

Washed cranberries

Use the following ratio:
1 23 cup water
45 cup sugar
4 cup cranberries (sorted and washed)
Mix the water and sugar in a heavy pot. Bring to a boil, until the sugar dissolves. Then add cranberries.

Boiling cranberries

Lower to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 30 or so minutes, stirring periodically. Use the spoon to crush the cranberries. You don't want a homogeneous mixture, but a nice lumpy sauce, with mostly broken berries but a very few whole ones.

Saucing cranberries

Zest some lemons and oranges to make:
2 tsp lemon zest
3 tsp orange zest
Orange and lemon

You'll want to add the zest last, as the longer you cook it, the more the zest flavour dulls.

Orange and lemon zest

Stir in the zest, and taste. Adjust the sugar and zest to taste. Let cool, and serve at room temperature or cold. (We generally make this ahead of time, but it's not much work and can easily be done while cooking a turkey).

Cranberry sauce

Thanks for the recipe, Dad.

12 November 2009


A few days ago, my 3 ½ year old asked if we could make cookies. We didn't have chocolate chips. We had just finished the brown sugar. And bed time was fast approaching. What to do? A sugar-cookie. A shortbread. Like the French punitions? I only slightly modified the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, as detailed below.

Conveniently, we have all the ingredients! So off we go...
5 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy.

Creamed butter

Add the egg.

+ egg

Beat until smooth. Add the flour. Pulse in the flour until combined.

+ flour

Dump the dough out onto a floured surface. Combine into 2 small piles, press together, wrap with plastic wrap and toss into the freezer for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove one pile of dough, and roll it out on a floured surface. You want your cookies about ¼" thick. Cut out cookies, with the help of a small child, remove the cookies from the cutters, and place them on a cookie sheet with a Silpat.

Cookie cutter

Bake 12-14 minutes, until the cookies have solidified, and look like this:

Baked cookie

Remove to cool.


Smitten Kitchen suggests you can keep these cookies around for 5 days at room temperature. I wouldn't know.

10 November 2009

Veal Sweetbreads

As we rapidly approach the end of 2009, I've started to reflect on my year. At the end of 2008, I resolved to eat and cook as many varied creatures and parts of creatures that I could find time for. In that, I haven't been as good as I could have, so in an end-of-the-year push, I'm going to try to remedy this.

I begin with veal sweetbreads.

Raw veal sweetbreads

Veal sweetbreads come from the thymus, and are responsible for immune cell maturation. They're a delicacy that doesn't freeze well, so one is advised to purchase them as fresh as possible. I special ordered mine from my local butcher.

I hadn't the foggiest how to prepare them. I had never eaten them before, much less cooked them, so I poked around on our lovely internets, and found a recipe at the New York Times that looked like fun. I modified it slightly:
1 1⁄3 pounds sweetbreads
1 lemon
½ cup dried cherries
1⁄3 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons flour
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ ounces pancetta, in one slice, diced
½ cup finely chopped onion
24 very small cremini mushrooms, stems removed
2⁄3 cup pork stock
1 tablespoon minced tarragon
Dissolve a tablespoon of salt in 2 cups of water. Pour overtop of the sweetbreads, and soak in the fridge for an hour and a half. While you're soaking them, mix the wine and dried cherries, and soak (all day if you want to. Watching them plump up is pretty fun).

Raw veal sweetbreads

Fish out the sweetbreads, and gently peel off the membrane.

Raw veal sweetbreads

You'll know you're starting to go too far when the sweetbreads start to fall apart into little chunks.

Raw veal sweetbreads

You may need a knife to cut off bits of the membrane. This was the only tricky part of the preparation, because it's really hard to know when to stop. You really never run out of membrane.

Place the sweetbreads in a saucepan, and cover with water.

Raw veal sweetbreads

Bring the water to a gentle simmer, and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the stove and let it cool down. I briefly considered abandoning this project at this point. The smell of liver was rather overwhelming... But push past it, and you will be rewarded.

Poaching sweetbreads

Place the cool sweetbreads in the fridge until you're ready to complete the dish. Half an hour before serving, remove the sweetbreads from the water, and break into small chunks. Pat dry.

Dried sweetbreads

Season the flour with salt and pepper. Gently coat the sweetbread nuggets with the flour mixture.

Breaded sweetbreads

Gently brown the floured sweetbreads in melted butter.

Browned sweetbreads

Take the browned sweetbreads out of the pan and let cool.

Coarsely chop the pancetta and finely chop the onions.


Sauté the onions and pancetta together in butter.

Pancetta and onions

Add the mushrooms, and cook until softened. Add the pork stock and cherry-wine mixture. Add the sweetbreads, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Finished sweetbreads

Sprinkle tarragon on top and serve. The sweetbreads were the same consistency as a bread stuffing. The mushrooms were delightful. And the sauce was sweet and tasty. Sweetbreads are very mild flavoured, but delicious. The worst comment from our guests that night was, "If I had been raised differently, I could like this. But I was raised to think that organ meat isn't edible."