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Fig And Lemon Olive Oil Cake And A Photo Tip

Fig and Lemon Olive Oil Cake and a photo tip

After conversing over the blogosphere with her for the last several months, I finally met Stacey of “Stacey Snacks” face-to-face.
Stacey’s recipes and photos gets me drooling first thing every morning, and I borrowed this recipe for fig and lemon cake from her blog. Lucky for me she lives in New Jersey and comes to Princeton fairly often for business. She was also kind enough to teach me a new function on my little point and shoot Canon camera that I’ll share with you now.

This shot of a bowl of frozen figs thawing out was taken indoors in my kitchen at night, with regular tungsten light bulbs overhead. Little did I know that you could change your camera’s setting to adjust for the light source, including florescent lighting. Here’s what my photo looked like before I changed it to the tungsten light bulb setting. It had been set on the default setting that came with the camera and doesn’t look so great with that yellow-y overtone does it?
A couple of little clicks on the back of the camera where you set it to a little icon that looks like a lightbulb and you’ve got this instead. What a difference. Thanks Stacey.
Now that it stays light longer into the evening, I will try to use natural light more often, but it’s great to know that my camera has this function for those times when I’m relying on indoor lights. If you’ve got Photoshop (which I don’t), you may also be able to change the white balance in the editing.

On to the cake! Stacey used dried figs for her cake, but I had stashed some fresh figs in the freezer last September and I figured it was time to use some of them. I had both the purple and the green kind put away and used a little of each variety. The cake was delicious with the fresh figs, but I have a feeling that for this recipe, the dried figs might be even better, with their concentrated sweet flavor and chewiness.Here’s the finished cake. Stacey’s recipe follows.Fig & Lemon Olive Oil Cake: (inspired by Martha Stewart)
Stacey’s recipe calls for a removable bottom tart pan, but I used a ceramic tart pan instead. Just make sure to grease it thoroughly first.

2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for pan
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 oz. package of dried figs, chopped (I used about 1 1/2 cups of frozen figs that had been thawed)
zest of one lemon
1 tsp of fresh chopped rosemary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or a cake pan lined with parchment paper) with oil; set aside.

In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil, milk, and egg; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; add milk mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula just until smooth (do not over mix).

Gently fold in figs and lemon zest and rosemary.
Spread batter in prepared pan; set pan on a rimmed baking sheet.
Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

Chocolate Amaretti Cake

I must be channeling a lot of other bloggers unconsciously since I made this cake the same week that Tuesdays With Dorie bakers chose chocolate amaretti cake as their project. Even though we use the same ingredients, the proportions for mine are different, with more chocolate, more amaretti and more almonds. This is one case where more is more.
I also serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, rather than a chocolate frosting. Just mention the word cream and I’m in. Plus I like the contrast of vanilla and chocolate.

You don’t have to use those expensive, individually wrapped amaretti that come in a red tin. Just buy the kind you find in bags in the cookie aisle at the supermarket.

You’ll understand why this cake is worth blogging about once you try it. It’s rich with chocolate flavor, it’s elegant, and it’s ridiculously easy to make. I’ve been baking this for years for my Italian chit-chat group and by now many of them have adopted this recipe too.

This cake reminds me of the time we were living in a fully furnished apartment in Rome and I offered to contribute this cake to a dinner at a friend’s home. Trouble was we had no mixer. The kitchen was large but the batterie of pots, pans and other kitchen equipment was rather deficient to put it kindly. I asked the landlord if he could get us a mixer, a toaster and a corkscrew, and he did come through with the toaster and the corkscrew. But instead of a mixer, he brought over a stick blender – the kind you use to make pureed soups.
Something definitely got lost in the translation.
Oh well, you make the best with what you’re given and I managed to turn out a pretty terrific chocolate amaretti cake using the stick blender. Hopefully you have a real mixer in your kitchen.
Chocolate Amaretti Cake

6 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate
1 cup almonds
1 cup amaretti cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9 inch round cake pan all around and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pan with flour.
Melt the chocolate, either in a double boiler or in the microwave.
Put the almonds and amaretti cookies in a food processor and grind until it resembles sand.
Put the butter and sugar in a mixer and mix until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl occasionally.
To the mixing bowl, add the nut and amaretti mixture and the melted chocolate.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes.
Let it cool and flip onto a serving platter. Remove the parchment paper and decorate with powdered sugar, using a paper doily as a pattern. I have also baked this in a pretty ceramic dish and served it without flipping it. Just be aware that the top may be a little crunchy and cracked if you serve it this way. You can still decorate with powdered sugar, which hides a lot of defects.

Serve with plain whipped cream, or whipped cream flavored with a little bit of coffee liqueur or instant coffee dissolved in a little liqueur, or with ice cream.

Hurry up. Get going. I know you’ll want to chomp down on this:

A Very Late Buche De Noel

A Very Late Buche De Noel

This is what I normally prepare for Christmas Day dessert, but this year I chose to make a Raspberry Bombe instead. As tasty as the bombe was, I have to say I missed the buche. The yule-log was missing from our yule.

So I took the opportunity to make it for a post-Hanukkah party this weekend. It doesn’t have to be a holiday treat. It is sensational for any large, winter gathering, with shredded coconut strewn for snow and little meringue mushrooms sprouting up around the log.

It’s not a project for the faint of heart, but if you’re patient and follow the directions carefully, you can do it. If you can read, you can cook, I always tell friends who lament that they can’t cook. Muster up your courage and go for it. Make sure you read the directions thoroughly before starting. If you really mess it up, you can throw it all in a glass bowl and call it a trifle. If you don’t tell anyone it was supposed to be a yule log, they’ll never know.
I’ll never forget my first attempt at making a chocolate souffle, decades ago. It never rose to puffy heights, but my husband proclaimed the dessert “the best brownies I’ve ever eaten.”

With a few small changes, this is adapted from a recipe for “bittersweet chocolate roulade” from an episode of “America’s Test Kitchen.”

This cake tastes best served at room temperature.

for the cake:

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup sifted cocoa, plus 1 T. for unmolding
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheet
1/8 t. salt
6 large eggs, separated
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1/8 t. cream of tartar


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12 x 17 inch rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, cover pan bottom with parchment paper and spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray. Dust surface with flour and tap out excess.

2. Bring some water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Combine chocolate, butter and water in small heatproof bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set bowl over pan, reduce heat to medium low and heat until butter is almost completely melted and chocolate pieces are glossy and fully melted. Do not stir or let water boil under chocolate. Remove bowl from pan, unwrap and stir until smooth and glossy.

3. While chocolate is melting, sift 1/4 cup cocoa, flour and salt together into small bowl and set aside.

4. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add about 1 t. sugar; continue beating until soft peaks form, about 40 seconds. Gradually add half of sugar and beat until whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks when whisk is lifted, about 1 minute longer. Do not over beat. If whites look dry and granular, they are over beaten. Remove whites into a large bowl.

5. Beat yolks at medium speed until just combined, and add half of remaining sugar. Continue to beat, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary until yolks are pale yellow and mixture falls in thick ribbons when whisk is lifted, about 8 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine, scraping down bowl once.

6. Stir chocolate mixture into yolks, a small amount at a time so you don’t scramble the eggs. With a rubber spatula, stir one quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold remaining whites until almost no streaks remain. Sprinkle dry ingredients over top and fold in quickly but gently.

7. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing batter into pan corners. Bake until center of cake springs back when touched with finger, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.

8. While cake is cooling, lay clean kitchen towel over work surface and sift remaining tablespoon cocoa over towel. With hands, rub cocoa into towel. Run paring knife around perimeter of baking sheet to loosen cake. Invert cake onto paper towels and peel off parchment. This is tricky and it’s entirely possible that the cake will crack when you’re inverting it, or rolling it, as it did for me. Don’t worry if this happens. It can be covered with frosting.

9. Roll cake, paper towels and all, into jelly roll shape. Cool for 15 minutes, then unroll cake and paper towels. Spread filling over surface of cake, almost to edges. Roll up cake gently but snugly around filling. Put cake seam-side down on top and place in refrigerator for an hour to harden the filling a bit. This will make it easier to frost.

10. Remove cake from refrigerator and trim ends at a diagonal. Spread ganache frosting on cake, including exposed edges. Take the edges that you trimmed off and attach to the top of the log as little stumps, using a long wooden skewer to help prevent them from sliding off. Spread more ganache on the little stumps reserving a teaspoonful for later. Use a fork to make wood-grain striations on the surface of the ganache before the icing has set. Refrigerate uncovered. Before serving, remove wooden skewers and patch the hole with a little dab of some frosting. Bring to room temperature before serving, for best flavor.

Filling:

Espresso-Mascarpone Cream

1/2 cup heavy cream
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
16 ounces mascarpone cheese

1. Simmer cream in a small saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in espresso powder and powdered sugar. Cool.
2. With spatula, beat mascarpone in medium bowl until softened. Gently whisk in cooled cream mixture until combined.

Chocolate Ganache

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 T. unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 T. cognac

Microwave cream and butter in measuring cup on high until bubbling, about 1 1/2 minutes. Place chocolate in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. With machine running, gradually add hot cream and cognac through feed tube and process until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer ganache to medium bowl and let stand at room temperature for one hour, until spreadable.

Meringue Mushrooms

2 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
dash cream of tartar

Beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and sugar, gradually, until mixture forms stiff peaks. Place into a plastic bag and trim off a bit at the corner. Or use a pastry bag. Pipe onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, some in small cap shapes and some in long “stem” shapes. Dab the tops with water to smooth out any pointy tips. Bake at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave in the oven another 1/2 hour. Let cool. Before serving cake, cut little holes in the bottom of a cap shaped piece and push a stem shaped piece into it. You can frost the bottom of the cap first if you like, but be aware that these will soften quickly once you frost them. Don’t assemble the mushrooms until you are ready to serve the cake. When all the mushrooms are placed around the cake, dust the caps and the cake with more cocoa, for a “dirt” effect.

Tender Chocolate Cake

Tender Chocolate Cake

I love layer cakes as much as anyone. Give me a slice of a three-tiered chocolate cake oozing with frosting and I’ll finish it off quicker than you can say “red velvet.”
But I’m also partial to the cakes that are more common in Italy — low, one-layer desserts that typically are served with just a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or no embellishment at all. This is one of those — dense, not too sweet, delicious, and easy to make in just ten minutes. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top, and you’ve got the perfect ending for a meal any night of the week or even for company.
The recipe comes from the handsome young newlyweds you see in the photo — my cousin Matteo Passeri and his wife Silvia de Domenicis, who live in Piacenza, about 40 miles south of Milan. The cake served at their wedding in June wasn’t chocolate, and it too, was very different from what you see at American weddings. Picture a giant sheet cake, with one very low layer of white cake, anchored on the bottom with puff pastry, then smothered entirely in whipped cream. Now picture rows of strawberries marching up and down the perimeter of the cake and you’ve got a dream of a confection that will make you forget you ever asked for a towering layer cake on your birthday. Maybe this recipe will become your annual celebratory request instead.
I’ve tweaked Matteo’s recipe just a tad by adding a teaspoon of vanilla, which adds another layer of flavor and enhances the chocolate.

Torta Tenerina

3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
***For the recipe, I used all but three small pieces of a 4.25 oz. bar of dark chocolate. Those I ate. (Well, the cook needs anti-oxidants too, you know.)

1 stick of unsalted butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 2 T.
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
a pinch of salt

Place the butter and chocolate into the top portion of a double boiler. Let the ingredients melt over gentle heat. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a mixer and beat for about a minute, then add the sugar and beat for about five minutes, or until the mixture is thick and pale yellow in color. Add the vanilla, salt and the flour and beat another minute until all ingredients are blended. Take the chocolate and butter mixture and stir with a whisk until smooth. Add the chocolate mixture to the ingredients in the other bowl. Pour into a greased and floured 8 inch cake pan and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool in pan on a cake rack for 10 minutes, then loosen edges with a butter knife and invert onto serving dish. After cake is completely cooled, place a paper doily on top, sprinkle confectioner’s sugar over all, then carefully lift the doily to reveal a beautiful pattern.
Serve with freshly whipped cream.