Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chocolate Krantz Cake

Sitting at home, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, I am in the midst of what is my third bout of illness within a two-month period. This most recent is believed to have been picked-up in the gym somewhere – so much for trying to get back into healthy habits.

With that being said, my winter days of late have been filled with more soups that I really care to recount at this point since they are all starting to taste the same.  Instead I want to tell you about a wonderful chocolate bread/cake I made a month ago for Christmas, a newer holiday tradition in the family. I would kill for a piece of it right now but the effort required to make it is probably about 25 times more than what I have available at the moment so I’ll make do with dreaming about it over the next few episodes of Serial. Sigh.

But anyway, let’s talk about chocolate krantz cake. The recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. It’s the only recipe I have made from the book (which I’ve had for about 2 years) but this recipe alone makes having the hard copy worth it. It starts out like a recipe for brioche but then the dough is filled with a thick chocolate paste, shaped into a braid, and, once baked, is doused in a sweet syrup. The result straddles the fine line between bread and cake. The syrup fuses with the chocolate filling, turning it into something kind of resembling chocolate frosting. It’s definitely sweet, but not cloyingly so. But the bread dough gives it a little more heft than a cake, therefore making it much more justifiable as breakfast food or an afternoon snack. But it works just as well as dessert too.

Better yet, the bread keeps wonderfully, which is nice considering that it takes a decent amount of time (2 days!) and effort to make. Can’t lie to you about that but, trust me, it’s worth it. I was still eating slices about 5 or 6 days after making it and they were just as good, if not better, with age. Cooled fresh loaves can also be wrapped tightly in foil and tucked into a plastic bag and frozen for a few months.

Perhaps this may not be quite the right recipe for all of the January gym-goers – because you are either being healthy or are also suffering the gym plague like me – but just you wait. Some day this winter the weather man is going to tell you all about an impending storm and if you plan it just right and start the night before, you’ll be pulling hot krantz cake out of the oven on your snow day. And I can’t imagine too many things nicer than that.

Chocolate Krantz Cake
Make 2 loaves

Please note that you must start preparing the cakes the night before you wish to bake them. Though the cakes themselves don’t take too much time for the physical construction, there is a lot of idle time. But, as mentioned above, it’s well worth the wait.


For the dough
4¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp fast-rising active dry yeast
zest of a small lemon
3 eggs
½ cup water
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 cup room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into cubes
unflavored oil, for greasing

For the chocolate filling
½ cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
4½ oz melted dark chocolate
½ cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 Tbs. sugar

For the syrup
2/3 cup water
1¼ cups sugar

Begin by making the dough. Place the flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Mix for about a minute to combine. Add the eggs and the water. Slowly increase the speed to medium and let mix for about 3 minutes, stopping the mixer as needed and pushing some of the flour into the center of the bowl until the minute comes together. With the mixer still on medium, add the salt and then the butter, a few cubes at a time, until all are added. Keep the mixer going for about another 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically and adding a bit more flour if it doesn’t seem to want to form into a ball.

When the dough it ready, it will have formed into a ball and be smooth and shiny and elastic. Place it in a bowl brushed with a little bit of oil to keep it from sticking. Cover the bowl with plastic, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, you can assemble and bake the cakes. Begin by greasing two 9x4 inch loaf pans and line them with parchment paper. Set aside. Then make the chocolate filling by combining the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, melted chocolate, and melted butter in a bowl until you have a smooth, spreadable paste. Also set aside.

Remove the dough from the fridge and divide in half. Place one on your counter and the other back in the fridge for the time being. Lightly dust the counter with flour and roll the dough into a 15x11 inch rectangle. Position it so that the shorter edge is closest to you. Spread half of the chocolate filling onto the dough, leaving a ¾ inch border on all sides. Sprinkle with half of the pecans and half of the granulated sugar. Brush a little bit of water on the side that is furthest from you. Then, starting at the end closest to you, tightly roll up the dough, pinching to seal it shut once you reach the end. Place the log of dough on the counter so that seam side is down and one end is facing you.

Now time for the slightly tricky part. Use a serrated knife to cut off the ends on each side of the log of dough. Now, running the knife from end to end, cut the log in half, lengthwise. It helps to make long shallow cuts, repeatedly running the knife from top to bottom and gently separating the two sides. Once cut through, lay the two sides so they are both cut side up. Take the end that is furthest from you on the left half and place it on top of the end of the right half, gently pressing them together. Now “braid” the loaf by taking the right half (the one underneath) and placing in overtop the left half, and then doing this once more until the two bottom ends meet up and can be sealed together. It doesn’t have to be perfect so long as the filling of the cake is exposed at the top and both ends are somewhat secure. Lift the cake into the pan and loosely cover with a clean dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and while that heats let the loaves rise for 1-1.5 hours, until increased in size by about 20%. Place the two loaf pans in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden. While the cakes bake, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves remove from the heat and let cool slightly. When the cakes are finished, place them on a cooling rack and immediately use a pastry brush to disperse the syrup over the cakes until all of the syrup is used up. It will seem like a lot, but will all eventually get soaked into the cake. After an hour remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely before serving.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday Pinecone Cheeseball

Why is it that cheeseballs only really seem appropriate in the few weeks surrounding Christmas? Maybe it’s because I go to my aunt and uncle’s house every Christmas after an enormous dinner with my family and still somehow eat the better half of a pecan cheeseball with cracked pepper water crackers. Or perhaps it could be because a “cheeseball” is exactly the right word to describe what I feel like after several nights of eggnog and Christmas cookies and, uh, cheeseball. Yeah, that’s probably it.

But really, the other 50 weeks of the year could pass by and my mind would not once even consider a cheeseball. Then, Christmas rolls around and this is suddenly a thing. It doesn’t make sense because cheese in a constant in my life and I would gladly eat this all day, every day. But for future reference, at least there’s buzzfeed to remind me of plenty of other occasions where cheeseballs are suitable.

The holiday cheeseball I made this year was a mildly disturbing yet intriguing pinecone-shaped ball of all things delicious. I made it for a Christmas party my roommates and I held at our house last weekend. As expected, the cheeseball sat on the table for a good hour and a half before someone had the courage to attack it with the cheese spreader. And once that first move was made, the cheeseball lived a very short life thereafter, soon turning into a small pile of residual almonds.

It’s a simple, do-ahead appetizer with a shockingly small list of ingredients despite having a good deal of flavor. This Paula Deen special (shocker!) contains a triad of delicious fats – cream cheese, mayo, bacon – with just dill weed and scallion added in for flavor. After a night’s rest in the fridge, the whole mass just needs to be shaped into a pinecone-ish shape, and covered in almonds. I also sprayed it with edible metallic gold spray because, why not? And that’s it! My only regret was not having ritz crackers…next time.

Holiday Pinecone Cheeseball
Adapted slightly from Paula Deen via Amy Sedaris
Makes one awesome cheeseball

1¼ cup whole unsalted almonds
1 8oz package cream cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
4 crispy cooked bacon slices, crumbled
½ tsp. dill weed
3 scallions, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
rosemary sprigs for garnish and crackers for serving

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the almonds out on a cookie sheet and toast for 15 minutes. Once toasted, set aside to cool.

In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and mayo on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add in the bacon, dill, scallions, salt, and pepper and mix to combine. Transfer to a container and chill overnight.

Before serving, use the cold cheeseball mixture to make a pinecone shape on a serving platter. Press the almonds into the cheeseball at a slight angle, beginning at the tapered end. Continue until the entire thing is covered.  Keep chilled until ready to serve. Garnish the top with sprigs of rosemary and serve with crackers.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Boston (again) and Giulia Restaurant

A few weeks ago I visited my sister in Boston and for the first time in our whole lives, her and I spent a long weekend together, just the two of us. You would think that after twenty-some-odd years we would have had a least one day of exclusive time together, but I really can’t recall when that has happened. So in late October when I discovered I had an alarming number of vacation days left, I bought a plane ticket to Boston on a whim while sending a friendly text to my sister saying something like, “hey guess what I’m visiting you, I’ll sleep on the floor of your room :).”

Per usual, we spent the majority of the time migrating from one food-related activity to the next. There were afternoon beer tastings and enormous soft pretzels at Harpoon Brewery and a hearty southern brunch at Highland Kitchen and maybe a couple nights of Trader Joes appetizers for dinner while watching Frozen because, you know, sisters. But the night that really stood out for us was our dinner at a newer restaurant in Cambridge called Giulia, an Italian place specializing in handcrafted pastas.

We were lucky to score a table to two on a Monday night, getting probably the last seats available at 5:30. A line waited out front before the doors opened and an hour into our dinner, the place was totally packed. It's the sort of place that has a cool, informal vibe, low lighting, wood and brick décor, and a casual and friendly manner from the wait staff. Yet behind this easygoing atmosphere is a place that takes food very seriously and presents an incredibly innovative and memorable experience. My sister and I went for the 6-course tasting, leaving our experience in the hands of chef Michael Pagliarini who, for the record, personally came to our table for a quick chat to ask us how we enjoyed our meal. Each course, many of which were off-menu items, met us with sheer surprise and delight and introduced to me tastes I never tasted before and a brand new appreciation for Italian food. To say the least it was simply amazing. Thank you Giulia! Here’s what we had:

Course 1: A Selection of Sfizzi
Warm semolina cakes with squash and parmesan, duck heart skewer with pickled onion and apple, and mortadella mousse crostini with spicy olive relish

Course 2: Antipasti Platter
Fresh burrata cheese, slices of prosciutto, pear and arugula salad, eggplant caponata, marinated mushrooms, and a pickled marrow and radish salad with warm crusty bread and olive oil.

Course 3: First Pasta
Spaghetti with seared Nantucket bay scallops, lemon, butter, and parsley (though very simple this one was by far my favorite. The scallops were incredibly sweet and tender).

Course 4: Second Pastas
On the left a roasted veal breast and sweetbread ravioli with swiss chard, tomato, and parmesan and on the right an emmer farro casarecce with braised duck, matsutake mushrooms, kale and squash.

Course 5: Main Savory Entrée
Tenderloin of veal with lentils, parsnip puree, diced apple, autumn berries and warm locally foraged mushrooms

Course 6: Desserts
A sweet corn cake with caramelized figs, mascarpone cheese, and crispy orange peel and a vanilla bean panna cotta with pine nuts, sea salt, and pine bud syrup. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Apple Tart (reprise)

Well, Halloween is over so I guess that means it’s Christmas, right? I hate to admit it but I think I’m getting in that holiday mood already… though in my defense it is hard to avoid. Certain little details are cueing me in on the festive spirit: the earthy, musky smell of decaying leaves on the side of the road, a bubbling pot of chili on the stove, a cool intake of breath mingling with the smell of wood smoke, Christmas lights on the trees outside my office. There’s no denying it, the holidays are here, ready or not.

And with all of that said, I’m starting to also get the baking itch. It is yet again time to start compiling the “need to make” cookie list with my sister (though we barely put a dent in last year’s), stocking up on butter like it’s a rare commodity, and coming up with any excuse to make the house smell like cinnamon.  And because I conveniently had a bag full of apples after a trip to the pumpkin patch last weekend it all began with an apple tart (again).

Yes, this one is extremely similar to the one from 3 years ago, albeit in a cooler looking pan, but that’s ok. A classic apple tart is one thing that certainly bears repeating. The dough comes together incredibly easily in the food processor and is filled with nothing but a whole lot of sliced apples. It gets a nice coating of sugar and butter before going into the oven, causing the tops of the apples to caramelize, and the whole thing is glazed with a layer of apricot jam after coming out of the oven. For the record, the dough recipe makes enough for two tarts, which means you can make one now and freeze the rest of the dough to make another on Thanksgiving. Can’t beat that! Note: You can use whatever tart pan you may have, it doesn’t have to be rectangular one like the one pictured.

Apple Tart


For the Pastry
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. sugar
12 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, diced
½ cup ice water

For the Tart
4-5 crisp/tart apples
¼ cup sugar
3 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup apricot jam

For the pastry, combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add in the butter and pulse until about 10-15 times until the butter is well distributed and the size of small peas. With the machine running, slowly pour in the water until the dough just comes together. Dump onto a floured surface and knead into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the apples and cut them in half down the center. Use a melon baller and a knife to remove the core. Place each half cut side down and use a small sharp paring knife to cut the apples into thin slices.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and divide in half. Save the remaining half of the dough for a later use, freezing if needed. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until abut an inch bigger than the tart pan on all sides. Place into the pan and trim off the extra overhanging dough. Arrange the apples in the pan, flat side down so that they all fit snuggly inside. Sprinkle the sugar overtop and scatter the diced butter over the apples as well.  Add a dusting of cinnamon on top as well. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden and the apples are caramelized.  Right after taking the tart out of the oven, warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan and use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the tart. Allow to cool for an hour before serving. Delicious with vanilla ice cream!