Saturday, February 25, 2012

almond joy cake

Today I want to talk to you about real life. Not the pretty, serene ideal I usually try to depict here, but my real real life.  Here's the thing: my real life can be messy. Harried. Way less than perfect. My real life almost always includes few dirty dishes, a half-finished to-do list, and an open bottle of red wine. My real life involves a purse full of crumpled up receipts, several stray tubes of lip gloss, and a lingering fear that I forgot to unplug the curling iron. My real life means getting a run in my tights, missing my train and bumping into my cute neighbor when I haven't washed my hair in days. Sometimes my real life means dropping buttercream on my new shoes. Baking my coworker a birthday cake at midnight. Taking pictures of said cake in a conference room at the office and hoping a partner doesn't walk in while I'm standing on a chair trying to get the perfect shot. Thankfully, my real life also means chocolate almond cake, chocolate coconut ganache, and coconut almond buttercream--otherwise known as this almond joy cake.  My real life may not always be perfectly styled or well lit, but it's still pretty sweet. And today it includes chocolate. I think yours should too.

Almond Joy Cake

For the Chocolate Cake Layers (Adapted from Martha Stewart): 
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 3 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs, buttermilk, vegetable oil, water and almond extract and whisk or beat in a stand mixer on low speed until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans. Bake for around 25-30 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Place the cake pans on wire racks and let them cool there for about 1o minutes. Turn the cakes out of their pans, and allow them to finish cooling directly on the racks.

For the Ganache
6 oz (about 3/4 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup light coconut milk

Place the chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl.  Heat the coconut milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Pour the hot coconut milk over the chocolate chips and let stand for about five minutes.  Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate the ganache, stirring occasionally, until it's a spreadable consistency.

For the Almond Buttercream
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup c0c0nut milk 
pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract

Beat the butter in a stand mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, the coconut milk, the salt and the almond extract. Beat for another 2-3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar until the frosting is the flavor and texture that you want. The buttercream should be light, fluffy, and thick enough to spread. You may not need all of the powdered sugar.

To Assemble the Cake
1 bag (about 2 cups) sweetened shredded coconut
chocolate covered almonds (optional)

To assemble the cake, place one cake layer on a cake board or large platter.  Top with 1/2 of the coconut chocolate ganache.  Sprinkle about 1/3 cup shredded coconut over the top of the ganache.  Repeat with the next cake layer, the rest of the ganache, and another 1/3 cup of shredded coconut.  Top with the final cake layer.  Spread a very thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake using an offset spatula if you have one.  This is your crumb coating.  Don't worry if there are crumbs of cake visible in your frosting--that's the purpose of the crumb coating.  All of the cake crumbs will be suspended in this bottom layer of icing, and will not be visible once you apply the rest of the buttercream.  At this point, I like to pop the cake in the refrigerator or even the freezer for a few minutes to allow the crumb coating to harden.  The icing should be dry to the touch.  Once your crumb coating has set, apply the rest of the buttercream in a thick layer.  Press the remainder of the shredded coconut into the sides and top of the cake.  Top the cake with chocolate covered almonds, if desired.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

happy valentine's day

Here's the truth: I love valentine's day. I know that it would be cooler of me to declare it a meaningless and made up marketing holiday, but I can't. I just love it. I'm not talking about the valentine's day of red roses and rehearsed romance, but the valentine's day of conversation hearts, anonymous notes, and small but sweet gestures that let your friends and family know you care. So here's to a day of secret admirers. Or at the very least, wine, chocolate and Ryan Gosling movies. Have a happy valentine's day. xoxo.

Friday, February 3, 2012

chocolate cherry granola squares

As a general rule I love to answer baking questions. Nothing makes me happier than coaching a coworker through croissants, helping a friend perfect pie crust or diagnosing a stranger's doughnut disaster.  But there is one question that never fails to strike fear into my heart--"what is the best thing you've baked lately?"  When it comes to recipes, I don't like to play favorites. I can't choose just one, so I end up launching into a laundry list of options that leaves the listener confused, overwhelmed, and, in all likelihood, ready to making a beeline for the nearest bakery rather than their own kitchen. But today? Today is going to be different. Because today I made these chocolate cherry granola squares, adapted from Good to the Grain.  A cross between a granola bar and a cookie, they are chewy, chocolatey and so good that I ate nearly the entire batch myself. (I offered to share. I didn't mean it.)  The original recipe, which includes raisins instead of cherries and no chocolate, is a traditional granola bar. This gussied up version on the other hand is a cookie masquerading as a healthy snack (just the way I like it). So without further ado, I give you my recent favorite. At least for this week.

Chocolate Cherry Granola Squares
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing

Dry Mix:
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 and line a 9x9 square pan with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper. In a large, heavy bottomed pan, melt the 1/2 stick of butter.  Add the oats, and stir over medium heat for about five minutes, until the oats have grown two shades darker.  Pour the oats into a large bowl.  Add the 1/2 cup of flaxseed meal and the cinnamon and stir.  Toss the remaining 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal with the dried cherries, and then finely chop them (the flax meal keeps the cherries from sticking to your knife).  Add the chopped cherries and the chocolate chips into the oat mixture.  Wipe out the pot you used for toasting the oats, and stir together the honey, brown sugar, molasses and salt. Cook the syrup about six minutes, until evenly boiling. (Boyce explains that it is important not to pull the syrup off of the heat too early, as boiling the syrup gives the squares their chewy texture.)  Pour the syrup over the oat mixture, and stir the oats and syrup well to make sure that the oats are evenly coated. (The chocolate will melt from the heat of the syrup. You can either just go with it, as I did, or wait to add the chocolate until after you've combined the oats and syrup and have let the mixture cool for a few minutes.)  Scrape the oat mixture into the prepared pan. Grease your hands with butter, and firmly press out the oats to an even thickness. Bake for about 20 minutes.  Let the bars cool and then cut them into squares. Serve immediately, or keep in an airtight container for up to three days.