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I have to admit, I was reluctant when I first read this challenge. A cake without flour? Whyyyyyyy? I mean, fine for all those gluten-free believers out there, but I LIKE gluten. I like the way flour makes a cake look and feel. I like it to rise. I like crumbs. And (warning: impending sacrilege here), I’m not so psyched about heavy-duty chocolate affairs. I kind of feel I’ve done my time in awe of the chocolate gods. These days, I prefer my dessert to be a single scoop of something cold, and light.  So I kind of dragged my feet. And chastised myself for missing last month’s challenge, which looked gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous – those lovely French tuile biscuits.  Wouldn’t they make a splendid little accompaniment to a tiny cold glass of Vin Santo, instead of cantuccine, for a kind of French twist on the Sienese tradition… Sigh.

But I wasn’t going to miss two in a row. So, late one Friday afternoon, I screwed my courage to my flourless sticking place, took out my lovely new mini-cake tins (yay!! I have mini cake-tins!) and told myself it would all be okay. Truth be told, this was undoubtedly the easiest of the DB challenges I have ever done. I think the challengers knew it would be easy, so they added a little fiddly bit: make your own ice-cream to go with it. Even with the ice-cream, it was a walk in the park. And – to my astonishment – delicious. Here’s how it was for me:

I made Dharm’s custard-based ice-cream. Vanilla bean, with the addition of some preserved ginger. Next time, I think I’d omit the vanilla. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a vanilla kinda girl. (Well, mostly vanilla, as a friend once reminded me.) But fresh vanilla is such an overpowering flavour that I felt it somewhat overshadowed the prickly, zingy edge I was hoping for from the ginger. Still, it was delicious. Especially because I found this delightful old hand-operated Donvier ice cream maker at the back of my mother’s kitchen cupboard. I think I ordered it off a mail-order catalogue when I was about 11 years old, but it still works a treat. It has a freezable metal insert; once that’s frozen good and proper, you just hand-crank the spatula to whirl up this perfectly soft, smooth gelato. Cute, huh?

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dsc00903Teacup for scale… we had the bigger of the mini-cakes for Shabbat dessert the night I made it. The other little one is in the freezer, a treat for a rainy day. And you know, my fears were totally unfounded. It was delicious. Dense as sin, but utterly more-ish.

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Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time:  20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Dharm’s Ice Cream Recipe
Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Recipe comes from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis (tested modifications and notes in parentheses by Dharm)

Ingredients
1 Vanilla Pod (or substitute with vanilla extract)
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Semi Skimmed Milk – in the U.S. this is 2% fat (or use fresh full fat milk that is pasteurised and homogenised {as opposed to canned or powdered}). Dharm used whole milk.
4 large egg yolks
75g / 3oz / 6 tbsp caster sugar {superfine sugar can be achieved in a food processor or use regular granulated sugar}
5ml / 1 tsp corn flour {cornstarch}
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Double Cream (48% butter fat) {in the U.S. heavy cream is 37% fat)
{you can easily increase your cream’s fat content by heating 1/4 cup of heavy cream with 3 Tbs of butter until melted – cool to room temperature and add to the heavy cream as soon as whisk marks appear in the cream, in a slow steady stream, with the mixer on low speed.  Raise speed and continue whipping the cream) or use heavy cream the difference will be in the creaminess of the ice cream.

1. Using a small knife slit the vanilla pod lengthways.  Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil.  Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse
Lift the vanilla pod up.  Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife so that they fall back into the milk. SET the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn-flour in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy.  3. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gentle hear, stirring all the time
4. When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it back into the bowl.  Cool it then chill.
5. By Hand: Whip the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon.  Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container.  Freeze for 6 hours or until firm enough to scoop, beating it twice (during the freezing process – to get smoother ice cream or else the ice cream will be icy and coarse)
By Using and Ice Cream Maker: Stir the cream into the custard and churn the mixture until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker)

The credit:

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.

We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge. February’s challenge is a Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Valentino, inspired by Malaysia’s “most flamboyant food ambassador”, Chef Wan. The recipe comes from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan.

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I think perhaps I should change the name of this blog to Lisa’s occasional forays into Daring Baking. These days I only ever seem to post once a month – for the DB event. I’m sure no one who knows me needs the excuses – Kolya’s been teething and learning to crawl, I’ve been shooting TV ads and juggling the fair bit of work and play that always dominates Cape Town summer. Plus, somehow I haven’t been gripped with inspiration for cooking lately. The upshot is that my extra weight from the pregnancy has evaporated, which never really hurts, especially with TV castings – and social stuff – hitting full December throttle. But, I swear, the Daring Bakers are determined to slap a bit of butter back on these hips. Because this month’s offering is nothing short of excessive.

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This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Until this challenge was announced, if you said “yule log” to me, I pictured a chocolate Swiss roll, with maybe a buttercream filling and a thin chocolate coating on the outside. And, I must admit, I pictured a store-bought, unremarkable thing (invariably the Woolies version – aka M&S to those of you in the UK). I had never heard of the French version, known as a buche; nor had I heard of the entire family of cream desserts, known as entremets, to which this calamitous piece of confectionery belongs. I had never heard of a dacqoise, which forms the meringue-like cake layer of the buche. Nor had I heard of gavottes, the lacy French biscuits we were supposed to make as an ingredient for the feuillette (never heard of one of those either). And I had never worked with gelatine. Are you getting the picture here? I used to think I knew my way round dessert. This time I was clueless.

Let’s start with the recipe. It has six parts. Each of the six parts has an array of variations. I printed out the recipe. It was 19 pages long. I kid you not. This recipe is so long and complex that the only reason for posting it here would be to knock your socks off that I (and the other brave folk of the Daring Bakers) actually completed the task. But, to be sensible, I’m just going to link to the recipe, which you can find here (it’s the Daring Bakers December recipe).

The bottom line was that you had to do all fo the six parts:

– almond dacquoise (a meringue-like cake layer)

– chocolate ganache  (made using a specific caremel technique)

– mousse  (this kind of envelopes all the other layers; the original is a dark chocolate mousse)

– feuillette or praline crisp

– creme brulee

– chocolate icing

So I told a friend I was planning to make this outrageous thing for Christmas lunch. It was three days before the last book club of the year. She said, Why don’t you make it for the book club. I thought, yeah, let’s do a trial run for the book club. So. Not only did I make this crazy dessert. I made it twice. Now, some of my astonishing fellow Daring Bakers made it more than that – notably those like Gfron1 who are professional confectioners. There ain’t nothing professionally confectionish about me, so I think twice will be it. The first one I did in a loaf pan, and stuck to the original recipe (except for flavouring the creme brulee with lemongrass, on a whim, which I would describe as dumb and pointless in a dessert of such extraordinary chocolatey richness). The Christmasey one I did in a round cake tin, went for vanilla rather than chocolate mousse, and went for an orange-vanilla-and-chocolate theme: orange zest in the dacquoise, orange liqueur in the ganache and mousse.

Round 1, early this month. Even though it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing thing I’ve ever done, I think I have won enough brownie points with the book club to excuse me for going AWOL for an entire year and forgetting to buy books this month.

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Round 2, Christmas lunch at the Hoffenbergs. Red rose petals cover up a myriad of icing disasters…

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It’s never a good idea to go to a supermarket when you’re hungry. Chances are, you’ll buy much more than you need, and plenty that you don’t need at all… I do it regularly. So I was on my way back from the allotment one time, and passed the little superette along the way, and stopped (as I oh-so-regularly do) for some orange juice. And, well, maybe one of those nice pain-au-chocolat things that they do so very nicely for a supermarket in a crappy area. But to get to the pain-au-chocolat shelf, I had to pass that other shelf. You know – the one with the packaged biscuits and cakes and mini-rolls and stuff. And of course, I’d been working in the garden the whole morning, so a box of cupcakes by the so-called Fabulous Bakin’ Boys seemed like A Good Idea.

Ha ha. These guys ought to be called the Not-so-Fabulous Bakin’ Boys. Either that, or the boys had a really off day when they made these. The baked items in the box looked like little fairy cakes with a dark chocolate icing layer. Adorable, really, until you tried to eat them. Dried out, much-too-small fairy cake bit, and utterly unlickable chocolate layer on top. It resembled, uh, dark brown wax. An altogether depressing cupcake experience, and one that left me wanting the thing I’d imagined. Luckily the thing I’d imagined was all too easy to put together.

These are the cupcakes I made. The cake recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I usually find Nigella a bit too AbFab for my taste, but Domestic Goddess does contain more than its fair share of classic recipes (if you have it, go get yourself some orange marmalade and a few slabs of chocolate and go make Store-Cupboard Chocolate-Orange Cake).

Nigella Lawson’s Fairy Cakes

(from http://www.nigella.com)

125g self-raising flour

125g caster sugar

125g soft unsalted butter

2 eggs

Half a teaspoon real vanilla extract

Approximately 2 tablespoons milk

1 x 12-bun muffin tin

12 muffin papers

Preheat the oven to 200C and line the tin with the muffin cases.

It couldn’t be simpler to make cup cakes: just put all the ingredients except for the milk in the processor and then blitz till smooth.

Pulse while adding milk, to make for a soft, dropping consistency, down the funnel. Or using a bowl and wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar, beat in the eggs one at a time with a little of the flour.

Then add the vanilla extract and fold in the rest of the flour, adding the milk to get the dropping consistency as before.

I know it looks as if you’ll never make this scant mixture fit 12 bun cases, but you will. I promise you this mixture is exactly right to make the 12 cup cakes, so just spoon and scrape the stuff in, trying to fill each case equally, judging by eye only of course.

Put in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cup cakes are cooked and golden on top. As soon as bearable, take the cup cakes in their cases out of the tin and let cool, right way up, on a wire rack

For the chocolate topping, I just melted a slab of plain dark chocolate with about a tablespoon of butter to make it soft and glossy. Spread the cooled, melted mixture onto the cooled cupcakes.

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A fine adulteration

Before I started this blog, I put a cooking-related post or two on my other blog. So, what follows is a copy of a long-ago chocolate brownie post. Because today I made the Moosewood Chocolate Brownies (recipe #3 below, and my abiding favourite). With one adulteration: the addition of cream cheese. I wasn’t sure what would happen. It turns out that the heavy chocolateyness and the pale, almost salty sourness of the cream cheese are a happy combination. Heaven. Also, today’s baking adventure really tested how forgiving Molly Katzen’s recipe is. Not only did I make a curdled mess of the butter and sugar mixture; I also somewhat burned the chocolate – and didn’t have enough time to let it cool before mixing it in. And you know what, the brownies were goddamn gorgeous, as Nikolai put it. The whole post follows below – scroll down to the bottom to find the Moosewood recipe.

So. Chocolate brownies. I’ve made a lot of these this year, in a variety of ways. The revelation about chocolate brownies was a thing I read by Nigel Slater, who points out that if you stick a skewer (or knife or whatever) in your brownies and it comes out clean, you have screwed it up. Really truly. Just start again. I mean, the thing in the pan might taste quite nice and chocolatey, but it will not have the magical squishiness of a true brownie, ok? Yes, you can redeem it with ice cream, but in the long run you’ll have to make more because the first lot won’t have fulfilled that special brownie thing you were after.

So in this post I’ll give you three brownie recipes, starting with the muddiest and richest, and ending with the lightest (though there’s nothing really light about any of these).
1. Nigel Slater’s recipe – the richest, darkest heaviest brownies imaginable. Closer to pudding than to anything like a chewy cookie.
2. A slightly cakier brownie – still rich and squishy, but closer to something you’d keep in a cookie jar (as opposed to the fridge).
3. Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Fudge brownies – a classic, that strikes a heavenly balance between lightly cakey and slightly chewy.

Nigel Slater’s brownies
(I can recommend Mr Slater’s fabulous article about these.)

300g golden caster sugar
250g butter
250g chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids)
3 large eggs plus 1 extra egg yolk, beaten lightly
60g flour
60g finest quality cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

You will need a baking tin, about 23cm x 23cm, preferably non-stick, or a small roasting tin.

Set the oven at 180°C/Gas 4. Line the bottom of the baking tin with baking parchment. Cream the sugar and butter well til it’s very, very white and fluffy.

Meanwhile, break the chocolate into pieces, set 50g of it aside and melt the rest. As soon as the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat and let it cool a bit. Chop the remaining 50g into gravel-sized pieces.

Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder and mix in a pinch of salt.
With the food mixer running slowly, introduce the beaten egg a little at a time, speeding up in between additions.
Mix in the melted and the chopped chocolate with a large metal spoon.
Lastly, fold in the flour and cocoa, gently and firmly, without knocking any of the air out.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top and bake for 30 minutes. The top will have risen slightly and the cake will appear slightly softer in the middle than around the edges.Pierce the centre of the cake with a fork – it should come out sticky, but not with raw mixture attached to it. If it does, then return the brownie to the oven for three more minutes. It is worth remembering that it will solidify a little on cooling, so if it appears a bit wet, don’t worry.

The second take is a fraction less like chocolate pudding. When I say a fraction I mean a very small fraction.

Brownie recipe #2

340 g dark chocolate
250 g butter
3 eggs
250 g dark brown sugar
110 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Grease well.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a small bowl or jug (or double boiler) melt the chocolate and butter together.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and slowly beat in the sugar. Beat in the flour mixture and lastly fold in the chocolate mixture. Scrape it all into the pan, and bake it for about 17 minutes, then keep checking every 3 minutes til it’s done just well enough to be midway between gooey and cakey. But not liquid.
Take it out and leave it to cool before cutting.

The last lot is Mollie Katzen’s recipe, taken from her lovely classic, “The Moosewood Cookbook”. She has a lovely blog which you can find here. I’ve been making these since I was 12 and I LURVE them. I’ve put the metric measures in though the original recipe is in non-standard and imperial measures.

Moosewood Fudge Brownies

Let soften: 1/2 lb. (250 g) butter (don’t melt it)

Melt: 5 oz. (150 g) bittersweet chocolate. Let cool.

Cream the butter with 1 3/4 packed cups (about 200 g) light brown sugar and 5 eggs. Add 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract. Beat in the melted, cooled chocolate and 1 cup flour.

Spread into a buttered 9 x 13″(23 x 33 cm) baking pan. Bake 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees (180).

Optional: chopped nuts, or 1 tablespoon instant coffee, or 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange or lemon rind, or 1/2 teaspoon allspice or cinnamon, or a mashed over-ripe banana, or none of the above.

Yet another option: instead of uniformly blending in the chocolate, you can marble it. Add chocolate last, after the flour is completely blended in and only partially blend in the chocolate. It looks real nice.

Cream cheese adulteration: When you are putting the batter into the pan, spread about half of it in first. Then slice in 200 g Philadelphia cream cheese in a layer on the batter, smearing it in a marbly effect if you like. I guess you could mix it into the batter for a more evenly marbled effect. In mine, the cream cheese sank to the bottom anyway. Then pour in the rest of the batter. I used low-fat, simply because that was in the fridge. Full fat would be, well, even better in the decadence stakes, or worse, in the heart-attack stakes. It really depends what your priorities are.

I hope you like these. I know I also have a recipe for vegan (!!) brownies somewhere at home in Cape Town – I will dredge it out and link it into this post soon.

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