Archive for February, 2009

Chocolate, Pear, and Pistachio Frangipane

February 13, 2009

So right now there is a baby lying on my chest.  Yep, you heard me right.  On Thursdays I nanny for the cutest little guy that I’ve ever met.  He’s sixteen months old and doesn’t have tantrums.  Enough said.  That’s right, I get to play mom for one glorious day, and then give the kid back to his real mom and go on with my life.  Not a bad deal, huh?

The only problem (and it’s really only a problem sometimes) is that this guy is super cuddly.  Normally I’m flattered, I mean, who’s going to refuse baby hugs?  However, he takes a nap every afternoon, and he likes to sleep on my chest.  And when I say “likes”, I really mean that he must sleep on my chest with his little fists cliniging to my shoulders, and his little head nestled in the nook right between my shoulder and collarbone.  Now for the most part, this is great, I mean, it’s completely adorable.  But it becomes a bit of a problem if, say, I have to go to the bathroom, or if, perhaps, I’ve become hungry and am starting to develop a major craving for the incredible chocolate cake I made the other day.

Who am I kidding?  The overwhelming cuteness more than makes up for having to hold it, or, in today’s case, having to wait an extra couple of hours to get a piece of that cake.   Oh, life is tough.

As much as I’d like to keep gushing about this baby (and I could, believe me) I’ll get back to the cake- eventually.  The other night my friend Julia came over for dinner, which was less of a dinner and more of an over-ambitious and completely awesome dumpling party.  We made three kinds of dumplings, all of which were delicious, none of which I took pictures of.  Ah well.  Maybe next time.  I also made this cake.  Unfortunately, by the time we had made and feasted on the dumplings, we were way too full to even think about dessert.  So dutifully, we all shared a tiny sliver of the cake, taking about a half a forkful each.  It was good.  Very good.  Delicious, even.  But it was not the right time for cake.  So the cake went back into the fridge to rest until another day when we would be less full and more ready for dessert.

The next morning I emerged from my dumpling coma hungry.  I fully intended to have a responsible breakfast but, well, it was Saturday, and that cake was just sitting in the fridge.  Just sitting!  So yes, it became breakfast, and it was worth it.

I have to say, I was pretty excited about this cake.  Lately I haven’t been the most adventurous (or the most prolific, for that matter) baker.  I’ve been short on time and have been sticking to the tried and true recipes.  But this time I felt like trying something new, and I’m glad I did.  The cake is kind of a coming-together of three of my favorite things: Clotilde’s Melt in Your Mouth Chocolate Cake, pistachios, and pears.  I made a half recipe of a variation of the chocolate cake, improvised on a pistachio frangipane, and added sliced pears, sprinkling them with cinnamon and sugar.   It sounds pretty simple, and it was, but when baked together it became something more.  The saltiness of the pistachios played perfectly against the dark chocolate, and the nuttiness gently permeated the rest of the cake.  The pears added some necessary lightness to the otherwise rich dessert, and leant a subtle fruitiness to each bite.

As easy as this cake was, it looked and tasted pretty impressive, which is why I highly recommend that you make the next time you’re looking to get some oohs and ahs.  I’m sure it would be adorable in the form of mini cakes, too.  The bonus?  It stores really well, and arguably tastes better on the second or even third day.

Also, I submitted this recipe to Culinarity’s Original Recipes Roundup.  Check it out!





Pear Pistachio Frangipane Cake

Serves at least 8


For the Chocolate Cake:

  • 1 stick minus 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 100g (3.5 oz) dark chocolate (use the best you can find)
  • 1/2 Cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon of flour


For the pistachio frangipane:

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup ground pistachios (a slightly rounded ½ Cup unground)
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour




For the pears:

  • 2 pears (Bosc or Anjou are fine)
  • A few teaspoons white sugar and some cinnamon


Pre-heat your oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper (I like to butter the pan, then butter the parchment paper).

In a mini food processor, grind the pistachios and the flour to a fine meal.  Set aside.  With an electric mixer (or, I imagine, even in the mini food processor), cream the sugar and butter.  Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until smooth.  Add the ground pistachios (which already have the flour added) and beat until it forms a smooth paste.  Transfer to a piping bag or a ziploc.

In a double boiler over just-simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter.  Remove from the heat (you can transfer the chocolate-butter to a mixing bowl, but I prefer to keep it all in one bowl and just put the top half of the double boiler on a kitchen towel).  Add in the sugar, stir with a wooden spoon and let cool a little. Add in the eggs one by one, mixing well after each addition.  Finally, sift in the flour, ginger, and cinnamon.

Pour the chocolate batter into the pan, tapping the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles.  Snip a corner off the Ziploc bag holding the frangipane, and pipe a spiral over the chocolate cake, leaving a border of at least an inch.  It’s OK if it’s not perfect!  Peel the pears and then halve and core them.  Slice the pears at a 45 degree angle towards the stem end, and then press to spread the slices slightly.  Using a knife or a spatula, transfer the sliced pear halves to the top of the cake, arranging them as you like.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

Put the cake into the oven to bake for 30 minutes, although you should check at about 25 minutes.  Turn the oven off but leave the cake inside for another ten minutes, then put the pan on a cooling rack on the counter to cool completely.

You can store the cake in the fridge and serve chilled, although I prefer to let it come to room temperature before serving.  Store the cake covered in the fridge for up to four days.


hello beautiful

February 7, 2009

Do you ever wander around the kitchen at night wanting something, not figuring out what it is, and then finally realizing that you’re just looking forward to coffee the next morning?  I think that this banana bread is the breakfast to go with that coffee.  This is a gentle banana bread, more cakelike than bready, with soft and comforting undertones.  If you bake it just right (well, at least in my opinion), the bread surrounding the inevitable crack down the middle will still be a little bit gooey.  I can never resist dipping my finger in to grab a little bit of the gooey part before the loaf cools.  Don’t tell, although I’m pretty sure I get caught any time anyway.

What I like about this specific banana bread is the use of both butter and yogurt.  A lot of banana breads use oil which makes them very moist, but a little greasy and tasteless, in my opinion.  The yogurt keeps the moisture factor covered, anyway.

You could always go with variations.  I want to try substituting pears for the bananas.  I have no idea if it would work, but I plan on giving  it a shot.  You could add shredded coconut (1/2 C) and swap out the walnuts for macadamia nuts, or add cinnamon and maybe even a tablespoon or so of rum.


Banana Bread

adapted from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

makes one 8-inch loaf

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 C whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 C brown sugar or evaporated cane juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large very ripe bananas (best if they have a lot of black spots)*
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 C whole or low-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C (2 ounces) walnuts or pecans, toasted
  • 1/2 C raisins


1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pan.

2. Whisk the flours, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, whisk the mashed bananas, melted butter, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla together.  Gently fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined (if it’s a little bit lumpy that’s OK, just don’t overmix it).  Fold in the walnuts.  The batter should look thick and lumpy.

3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 55 minutes (but check a bit earlier), rotating the pan halfway through baking.

4. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving.

*I always find myself with a few bananas that are going black on me.  That’s great- I just peel them and throw them in the freezer until I feel like making banana bread.  It only takes an hour or so on the counter and they’re ready to go.  If you don’t have any super-ripe bananas (either fresh or frozen), America’s Test Kitchen has a great tip: oven-ripening the bananas.  Here’s how:

While the oven preheats, throw your yellow bananas (in their skins) on a baking sheet and pop them in the oven for 15 minutes or so.  The skins will turn black but the flesh will get softer and sweeter.  One note- this trick won’t work with green bananas, which are too far from ripeness to be useful here.


Help a girl out!

February 2, 2009

Hey everyone,
So today I’ve got a question for you. Well, to be honest it begins with a little bit of an explanation/gripe. Here goes: I’ve got one of these ovens that burns everything, and I mean everything, that I put on the bottom shelf. So don’t put anything on the bottom shelf, right? Well, last night I tried to bake some cookies, and I moved the oven shelves to the top two grooves in the oven. So the shelves were both in the top 2/3 of the oven. And you know what? The bottom tray of cookies still burnt. In five minutes flat.
Now here’s my question. Is there anything I can do about this? I thought about sort of permanently putting an old sheet pan near the bottom of the oven to temper some of the heat, but I’m not sure if that would even work. Does anyone have any suggestions??

Please comment if you’ve got a sec, I need your help!