12 Weeks Of Christmas | Week 5: Evelyn Sharpe’s French Chocolate Cake

20141106_131346I discovered this recipe when I was browsing through Amanda Hesser’s old columns in The New York Times, pre-Food52. I am a big fan of her writing, and she shares some really interesting recipes and tidbits about the history of food. This comes from her Recipe Redux column, which she wrote as she researched and compiled The New York Times cookbook. Hesser would take a recipe from the NYT archives, hand it over to a contemporary chef, mixologist or cookbook author and ask them to add their own twist and update the recipe.

While she uncovered dozens of old gems, many of the recipes, when tested by modern chefs, weren’t met with enthusiasm- they lacked flavour, texture, or both. Many NYT readers, however, preferred the older recipes. For her farewell column, Hesser chose a recipe titled Evelyn Sharpe’s French Chocolate Cake from 1969, which was a universal hit. A recipe ahead of its time, quite similar to the molten chocolate cakes/bull’s eyes/chocolate decadence cakes you’ll find in restaurants today.

I’ll vouch for one thing: it’ fudgy, rich and oh-so-chocolatey, a safe end to any meal. It’s fudgy in the middle like a brownie, but has a moist crumb as well. It’s not entirely flourless, but calls for just a smidgen of flour- a tablespoon. One could easily swap in almond meal or a gluten-free flour to make a gluten-free version.

There’s another thing I’ll vouch for: you absolutely must use the nicest dark chocolate you can lay your hands on. Spend a little more, buy Callebaut/Lindt/good quality chocolate and your cake will not disappoint.

I made this recipe twice before posting. Once, with a cheap chocolate I found at the grocery store and the second time around with Lindt intense dark chocolate. The first slab of chocolate I used- which was packaged nicely and labelled “stone ground dark chocolate compound,” was a quarter of the price of the Lindt bars, but TERRIBLE. I kid you not- the cake smelled like a baked potato and tasted like plastic. I threw it out, the entire thing. The recipe is all about the chocolate, so use the best.

 

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EVELYN SHARPE’S FRENCH CHOCOLATE CAKE

INGREDIENTS

  • 450 grams semisweet chocolate
  • ½ cup/110 grams butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated

 

METHOD

  • Heat oven to 220 C.
  • Grease the base of an 8-inch cake pan or line it with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • Melt the chocolate gently using the double-boiler method.
  • Once melted, pull off heat and stir in the butter, flour and sugar. Lightly whisk the egg yolks and slowly mix into the chocolate. Set aside.
  • Beat the egg whites until they hold a definite shape but are not dry. With a light hand, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. (Overbeating and underbeating will ruin the cake!)
  • Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.
  • Open the oven door, leaving it ajar, and allow the cake to cool completely in the oven.
  • Serve warm, with some whipped cream or ice cream.

WHO IS EVELYN SHARPE?

As for who Evelyn Sharpe is, I honestly don’t know- a 1960s New York society lady, perhaps? Luisa Weiss has a link to the comments section of the original NYT recipe on her blog, but unfortunately, it doesn’t open. We’ll just think of Evelyn is a nice lady who gave the world a fabulous recipe!

12 Weeks Of Christmas | Week 4: Brownie Cookies

I could only manage one post last week since we were off in Goa for a little break. But now it’s back to baking, full steam!

Brownies were one of the first things I learned to bake well. Back in the day, I’d use packaged brownie mix, but once I found a recipe that worked, I never looked at boxed mix again.

Since then, I’ve made different variations of brownies, drifted into blondie territory, and returned to the brownie zone with a 2-ingredient Nutella brownie. This made me realize, once again, how comforting a simple brownie could be. And that’s when it struck me: there’s been a lack of chocolate around here for a while.

I know Christmas calls for pumpkin spice lattes, hot apple cider, cranberry scones, and all kinds of spiced + fruity bakes and treats, but in my book, it ain’t a party until you’ve laid down some chocolate.

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So I present to you the brownie cookie. A recipe I bookmarked eons ago when I discovered Purple Foodie.  It lives up to its name: a cookie that’s crisp on the outside and along the edges, but a little underdone in the centre. These require a little patience, because you need to melt the chocolate using a double boiler. These are so, so good dunked in milk. How do I know? Because as I was trying to take a photograph, the cookie, teetering dangerously on the rim of the glass, fell in. (This happened with 3 cookies in successsion, FYI.)

I followed the recipe as is, but the quality of the chocolate was not top-notch: no Callebaut or Lindt, just regular Morde “cooking chocolate” from the baking aisle at Dorabjee’s in Pune. And it made for a pretty good cookie! So I can only imagine how decadent a cookie baked with Callebaut would be.

BROWNIE COOKIES (Via Purple Foodie.)

INGREDIENTS

  • 225g dark chocolate
  • 155g flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 110 g butter
  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 75ml or 1/3rd  cup milk

METHOD

  • Preheat oven to 175°C.
  • Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Melt the chocolate using the double-boiler method, by putting the chocolate in a bowl and placing the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once the chocolate has melted, set aside.
  • Sift together the, flour, cocoa powder and, baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
  • In a large bowl beat the butter until creamy.
  • Slowly add the castor sugar until it’s dissolved in the butter.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
    Next, add the vanilla and melted chocolate beat until well incorporated.
  • Add the milk.
  • Fold in the flour mixture until no streaks of flour can be seen in the batter.
  • Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto the baking sheet and press down gently with the tines of a fork, if you want to. Leave at least an inch of space between each drop of cookie dough.
  • Bake for 7 minutes at 175 C.
  • Allow to rest and firm up before transferring to a cooling rack.

 

ON MELTING CHOCOLATE

♥ Double-boiler: Place a pot of water on the stove, allow the water to simmer. Put the chocolate in another bowl, and place this bowl above the pot of simmering water and melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. (Make sure the bowl you put the chocolate in fits snugly onto the rim of the pot- you don’t want the pot shifting around too much.)

♥ Cooking chocolate:  It’s best to use good-quality cooking/baking chocolate for recipes like these, dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa solids.

♥ My chocolate is seizing up/coagulating/getting thick and crumbly/powdery: Don’t throw it out just yet. Lower the heat and add a little bit of fat- a spoonful of butter or a little drizzle of flavourless oil (pls don’t add coconut oil!) and your chocolate may smoothen itself out and melt evenly. If it still doesn’t work, it is best to start over- and avoid stirring the chocolate too much.

♥ Can I use Cadbury’s Dairy Milk? I love Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I grew up eating it and still enjoy it. The thing is, since Dairy Milk is a processed milk chocolate (with a lower percentage of cocoa solids compared to something like a Lindt 70%) it isn’t the best chocolate for baking. However, I did use Dairy Milk once to make chocolate cake- I couldn’t find dark chocolate anywhere and I was in a hurry. I melted the Dairy Milk pieces in a double boiler, but added a shot of oil to help bring it together as it began to seize up. Since there was extra fat in the cake batter because of the oil, I had to add extra flour to bring the batter together. The cake still turned out well. So yes, I suppose one can use Dairy Milk, but it’s a matter of trial, error, instinct and (dare I say) luck!

 

Healthy Dessert Experiment: Chocolate Avocado Pudding

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You know I love sugar. It’s in the title of my blog. I consume quite a lot of it. And I know it is not ideal. When I know it’s getting too much, and my skin starts to show signs of it, I just cut back.

I’ll forego chocolate altogether, and eat nuts and fruit for a sweet fix after a meal. (Ideally, one should be doing that most of the time…but alas! I am, at my core, a dessert-adoring, sugar-loving human.) I have tried, but while I am able to cut back, I can never really cut out dessert completely. It’s the Gretchen Rubin moderator vs abstainer theory- except I fall into neither category! I find it easier to stay off sugar completely for pockets of time, (meaning no peanut butter, no jelly, only pesto on my toast,) instead of lowering my sugar intake. After I’ve been off it for a while, I’ll start to indulge again, slowly (but surely!) And then, I am once again consuming more than I should, so I go back to abstaining for a while. It’s an unhealthy pattern, but it’s how I get by.

But…there is a way, you know. Apart from abstaining and moderating. Healthy desserts. The kind without gluten, or sugar, or dairy, like a Babycakes NYC cupcake.

I’ve been reading some special diet/healthy cooking blogs for a while now, learning more about vegan, gluten-free, whole-food and raw diets. And if you are looking to understand more about raw food, Laura Miller’s Sidesaddle Kitchen is a great resource. On her YouTube show Raw.Vegan.Not.Gross, she dishes up some pretty decadent lookin’ brownies, cake, and ice-cream, using all-natural, raw, unprocessed ingredients. While I won’t be making cauliflower pizza or walnut ‘meatballs’ anytime soon, her dessert recipes are more approachable and a good starting point if you are interested in eating raw.

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Chocolate avocado pudding is nothing new- I encountered it first on Fitsugar, and was surprised at how rich and creamy it looked. Not runny, not sticky, just glossy, a little firm, and creamy- like Jell-O pudding. And after I saw Laura’s version (even glossier and creamier,) and learned the health benefits of this magic pudding, I made a trip to the grocer the next day to pick up some avocados.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. I left out the nama shoyu- but I did use the balsamic and increased the salt to ½ teaspoon since I was not using nama shoyu. Also, I used light olive oil instead of coconut oil, because the coconut oil here in India has a much stronger, nuttier flavour, which would be overpowering.

CHOCOLATE AVOCADO PUDDING (From Sidesaddle Kitchen.)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large avocados, peeled and pitted
  • ½ cup agave nectar or maple syrup
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

METHOD
Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Serve!

Takeaways:

♥ Convenience: I give this recipe a 10/10. It’s quick and easy and comes together in minutes, all you need is a blender and your ingredients measured out.

♥  The Health Kick: Well, it’s definitely better for you than  Nigella Lawson’s chocolate pots de crème. Just avocado, natural sweetener and cocoa powder- no eggs, cream or butter, but the same dreamy, rich texture!

♥  The Taste: Hmmm. It’s good folks. Pretty darn good. But somewhere, I did feel like I was eating a chocolate-flavoured avocado. Perhaps it had to do with the quality of the cocoa powder- had I used some phancy raw cacao powder, I’m sure it would have added a richer chocolate taste.

Do you like attempting healthier desserts or would you rather indulge in old-fashioned bad-for-you desserts once in a while?