Ready for Another Chocolate Adventure?

October 3rd, 2008 · 23 Comments · Chocolate, Events, Recipes, Tarts


Thank you to all of you for your well-wishes – they definitely buoyed my spirits over a weekend of sneezing, sniffling, and coughing – let's just say you probably didn't want me anywhere near where your food was being prepared! However, I'm happy to say I am 100% recovered, all tissues and cough drops have been returned to their proper places, and I'm itching to be back in the kitchen!

I have a backlog of posts I'm eager to get up, and the first one is a recap of a very fun event I went to a few weeks ago. Remember the Chocolate Adventure contest from last year? It's back for a second round: entrants are invited to create an original recipe using Scharffen Berger chocolate and one or more of 16 adventure ingredients, from more obvious items like cocoa nibs and matcha tea to true challenges like mustard seeds, jicama, and coriander. This year, the adventure theme is being extended even further: there are three categories: Sweet, Savory, and Beverage. Each category will have a grand prize winner who will get $5,000, signed copies of Essence of Chocolate, Pure Dessert, and Demolition Desserts (I'll add that I can vouch for the excellence of all three books and their necessity on your bookshelf!), plus the honor of having their recipe published on TuttiFoodie and the Scharffen Berger newsletter.

All the official rules are here: you are allowed up to 10 entries, so get your chef's hats on and your tastebuds primed. The contest started on October 1 and runs until January 4th, 2009, so you have plenty of time to come up with the most innovative, adventurous chocolate recipe ever!

To kick off the excitement and get us thinking about unusual flavor combinations with chocolate, sponsors Schaffen Berger Chocolate Maker and TuttiFoodie, along with food diva extraordinaire Marcia of Tablehopper, threw a little party at Orson, Elizabeth Falkner's newest restaurant.

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Falkner, and I thought the choice of her as a kind of patron saint for a contest celebrating culinary creativity was inspired genius. Falkner is a chef who works fearlessly with sweet and savory ingredients, who plays with flavor and texture in the most whimsical, avant-garde of ways, yet never forgets that food should be foremost delicious and satisfying. Her first restaurant, Citizen Cake, showed she was so much more than just a pastry chef working with sugar and butter, and Orson is just the next extension in her culinary explorations.


The restaurant looks like a cross between a modern art museum and a sleek, ultracool lounge. The center is wide open and dominated by a dramatic hanging sculpture over a bar, perfect for after-work libations.


Here's a better perspective of the space. We are about to have John Scharffenberger lead us through a blind chocolate tasting – if you look closely, you can spot the little eye masks at each person's seat. Scharffen Berger has just released a special edition 10th Anniversary bar called Finisterra, made of a blend of beans from Venezuela, Trinidad, and Madagascar. What Scharffenberger did was have us taste each of the three component chocolates individually, to see how they differed in taste, mouthfeel, and finish, and then taste the finished bar, explaining how they combined the three and how they worked with each to create an entirely new flavor, but with identifiable notes from its parts. It was really eye-opening – pardon the bad pun – how not being able to see definitely forced you to concentrate and focus on the flavors of the chocolate in a different way. Plus, there is something just a little naughty about having someone feed you chocolate while you're blindfolded…

I realize I took no photos of Elizabeth Falkner! Well, here's one if you don't know what she looks like. She was busy running back and forth from the kitchen, bringing out an amazing array of courses, all using chocolate and some of the adventure ingredients in some surprising arrangement. All I can say is,  thank your lucky stars that Falkner is not competing in this contest! She is, however, one of the judges, so know that this is one chef who is very well versed in exotic experimentation!

We started off with a rum-based cocktail laced with kaffir lime and chocolate shavings, moved on to potato rounds topped with cocoa nibs and romanesco, and then chicarrones (fried pork skins) dipped in a bittersweet chocolate sauce. By the way, the chicarrones are a staple on her bar menu, but served with barbecue sauce. Give me a bucket of those chicarrones and some chocolate sauce to dip it in, and I will happily die from a heart attack.

For the main courses, we started with a salad of mango, avocado, and cherry tomatoes with chocolate shavings and a violet vinaigrette, and then were served roast pork in a chocolate mole sauce spiced with chili and ginger. Sorry I have no photos of all these – it's not that I pigged out and ate them all before snapping shots, it's just the quality didn't come out very well!


Here are two shots that did come out decently – this one is a quenelle of Parmesan pudding along with some red peppers, and cocoa nibs mixed with unflavored Pop Rocks – yes, pop rocks are one of the adventure ingredients.  Creamy and rich without being overpowering, and the pop rocks added an interesting sensation contrast to the pudding.


This was the one "real" dessert – imagine that we've had about 8 dishes, all using chocolate in some way, and only one was a sweet item! This was, of course, one of my favorites – chocolate and black olive ice cream sandwiched between thin cookies made of chocolate, cocoa nibs, and espresso. I'm not a fan of olives, but this was really something special – the bitter saltiness of the olives played wonderfully off the chocolate, making it sweeter and more complex at once. It's one of those dishes that makes you happy you've opened your mind to possibilities heretofore unconsidered.

All of us lucky enough to be at Orson certainly came away with a new appreciation for the versatility of chocolate as an ingredient. I've seen plenty of amazing creativity out there in the blogosphere as well, so I'm sure all of you who enter will be dreaming up some astonishing dishes!

I'm being a little less creative for this post, but after eating at Elizabeth Falkner's restaurant I couldn't help making one of her recipes from Demolition Desserts. This one, called A Chocolate Tart Named Desire, is a sweet, sassy ode to the South – essentially a warm chocolate cake batter baked in a buttery tart shell lined with a layer of rich caramel. Decorate with some pecan praline and some mint-and-bourbon-laced cream, and you have yourself a beautiful, balmy evening on the front porch – or a cozy evening inside, if fall's already settled in firmly where you are.

The dessert is multi-part, like most of Falkner's desserts, but it's worth the work – the chocolate tart is nicely rich and smooth, and I like how the tart crust "corrals" the cake batter so it doesn't run everywhere. The caramel sauce and pecan praline just up the decadence factor – there's something about pecans and brown sugar and butter that makes it really hard to stop eating them. Finally, a little bit of mint, just to cut through all the richness and add a sprightly top note.

It's good to be back, everyone – best of luck if you're entering the Chocolate Adventure contest, and also come back next week – I'm the next Sugar High Friday host and I'm just about ready to announce the theme!


Other Recipes to Try


Rosebud Creme Brulee

Warm Chocolate Caramel Tart

adapted from Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts

makes about (8)  3 1/2 in tarts


1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons (2 ounces) sugar

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened,cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream

Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup water

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter

3 large eggs, separated

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix a few times with the paddle attachment just to combine.

Add in the butter and mix on low speed until it just starts to come together – there should still be visible pieces of butter and it should not be a smooth, homogeneous mass.

Add in the egg yolk and cream and mix until the dough just forms into one mass.

Turn out dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. form into a flat slab, and wrap well. Chill for at least one hour to let the dough firm up.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and place eight 3 1/2 tart rings on it.

Take out the dough, cut in half, and return rest to the refrigerator for another time. Roll out the dough to about 3/16" thick. Using the tart rings as a guide, cut out rounds of dough and press into the tart rings, forming it to the bottom and sides. Trim the dough off the top so it is even with the tart rings.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway. If the dough starts to puff up, push it back down with a dough tamper.

Remove from oven and let cool while you make the caramel sauce and filling.

To make the caramel sauce: Combine the water, cream of tartar, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until it reaches 350 degrees and has turned dark amber. Be careful not to let it burn.

While the sugar is cooking, you can heat the cream up in the microwave or on the stove until it is warm but not boiling -it will prevent it from causing the hot caramel to seize up when you add it.

Add the butter to the caramel and stir to combine.

Pour in the cream, being careful as it will bubble out. Some of the caramel may seize up, but just place back over the heat and stir until it's melted again.

When it is all combined and smooth, remove from, stir in the salt and vanilla, and let cool before using.

To make the filling: Combine the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl and melt over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a clean mixer bowl, whip the egg whites with 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt until soft peaks form. Set aside. 

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg yolk and remaining sugar together until combined and thick. Slowly pour in few spoonfuls of the warm chocolate mixture and whisk to combine until smooth. Pour in a few more spoonfuls and repeat. You want to do it slowly because if you pour it all in at once the chocolate could seize up.

Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture gently with a spatula. Sift the flour into the bowl and fold into the chocolate mixture as well.

You can use the filling right away or refrigerate for up to 3 hours.

To finish the tarts: Spoon 1 tablespoon of the caramel sauce into the bottom of the tart shells. Spoon the filling on top of the caramel sauce, covering it completely and filling the tart shell all the way to the rim.

Bake the tarts for 10 minutes. The filling should puff up and still look slightly shiny. Serve immediately.

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The Opera Cake Goes Lemon and Lavender

May 27th, 2008 · 86 Comments · Cakes, Events, Recipes


When the hosts of the month for Daring Bakers are none other than the intrepid founders themselves, Ivonne and Lis, you know it will be something special indeed. These two lovely ladies who have created the web's most wonderful baking community, along with Fran of Apple Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful chose a beautiful and very apropos challenge for all who dare to bake: the Opera cake.

The very first time I made opera cake in pastry school, I felt like I'd scaled a baker's Everest, one made of cake and chocolate and cream and sugar. Like all the hard-core classics of French pâtisserie, opera cake offers a full-scale obstacle course to surmount: whipping egg whites, making joconde, mixing up buttercream, assembling multiple centimeter-thin layers of cake…anyone who finishes an opera cake should certainly feel the happy glow of accomplishment!

There's so much to learn from the opera cake: for example, the joconde is an almond genoise. Genoise is the French form of sponge or chiffon cake; these cakes are distinguished by the lack of leaveners in their batter. The only leavening in these cakes comes from the air whipped into the egg whites or eggs, which gives an added dimension to what's going on when you turn on your mixer. Unlike classic butter cakes, where you simply combine all the ingredients with a bit of baking powder or soda and let the chemicals do their thing in the oven, when making a genoise awareness of your actions becomes paramount. If you don't whip the eggs enough, there won't be enough air in the batter to let it rise. If you fold the ingredients together too roughly or let the batter sit out too long, you risk letting the air bubbles deflate, again losing that critical component of a genoise.

Some may prefer the robust, gloriously thick butter cake of American layer cake fame to the finicky, delicate sheets of genoise, but I find they both have their unique charms. Genoises are essential to the refined elegance of petit fours and other tea-time pastries; with the French penchant for individual-sized cakelets, you need thin, light layers for an effective presentation. The classic opera cake, which is composed of seven layers of cake, buttercream, and ganache, should be less that 1.5 inches total in height, meaning you've got to be pretty precise with all your pieces.

Then there's the buttercream: Ivonne and Lis chose a rich French buttercream for the opera cake filling. French buttercream is always a favorite because of its creamy, buttery flavor, but it can also melt faster because of its high fat content – I think I saw several DBs commenting on the softness of the buttercream. You need to work quickly with this buttercream, and don't be afraid to chill it if it's getting too soft. Myself, I tend to be more partial to the Italian meringue buttercream, because it's more stable and workable, and because it forces me to get over my fears about sugar cookery. Whichever form of buttercream you use, be sure to keep the layers of buttercream about the same thickness as the genoise layers – the genius of opera cake is the balance of textures and flavors between all the various components.

Finally, the top: classic opera cake is indelibly distinguished by its glossy smooth chocolate topping and swooping "l'Opera" writ in chocolate across the surface. But these days, all the classics are being interpreted and re-invented, and it's not surprising to find opera cake in all guises. I have to say one of my favorite versions is still Sadaharu Aoki's matcha version, which I tried to recreate. Ivonne and Lis specified a light-colored theme for the Daring Bakers challenge, and generously let us play around with flavors of our choosing. My mind immediately drifted to a lemon-lavender theme, and that's where I ended up: an opera cake brushed with lemon simple syrup, layered with lemon buttercream, and topped with lavender white chocolate mousse. Sweet, springy, and still lusciously decadent: I'd like to think French would approve of the modifications!

*By the way, for those that had trouble with making the white chocolate ganache mousse, I think the reason is that making a ganache with white chocolate and cream is quite different from making a ganache with dark chocolate. White chocolate is almost all fat, as is cream. Combining so much fat together can be almost impossible; overagitating the mixture will result in a clumpy curdled mess. The best strategy is to keep the cream and chocolate as cool as possible. Whip the cream to soft peaks, and then fold the melted chocolate in by hand. You can chill the mixture in the refrigerator to firm it up; this method is safer than trying to whip the ingredients together.

I always enjoy an opportunity to remake this pastry classic, and I especially enjoyed doing with all my fellow Daring Bakers! Thanks to Ivonne and Lis for creating the DB version of the opera cake – and for  inspiring hundreds of beautiful and scrumptious variants of this fabulous dessert!

This lemon and lavender opera cake is also dedicated to Barbara of winosandfoodies. Barbara is the founder of A Taste of Yellow, and I'm glad to have an appropriately-hued dessert to celebrate LiveStrong Day!


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Pandan Cheesecake Pops – An Alluring New Flavor

April 27th, 2008 · 66 Comments · Custards, Events, Recipes


Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell, two blogs I totally adore, picked something quite playful and adorable for this month’s Daring Bakers – cheesecake pops from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor.

Elle and Deborah gave us quite a bit of leeway in customizing our pops, which I’m sure has resulted in a dazzling display of creativity among all the Daring Bakers. For my part, I found this recipe an opportunity to play with an interesting new addition to my pantry: pandan leaves.

Pandan leaves, or screwpine leaves, as they as also called, come from Southeast Asia, and are used in a variety of ways, from flavoring savory dishes to scenting jasmine rice. Pandan possesses a uniquely nutty, floral flavor, quite unexpected from the leafy green fronds. This subtle sweetness also makes pandan a natural for baking: one classic dessert is pandan chiffon cake, a fluffy, angel-food like concoction distinguished by its spring green hue which comes from the pandan leaf juice itself.

So where are pandan leaves found outside of Asia? Surprisingly, they were almost under my nose – frozen pandan leaves are often carried in Asian supermarkets, and I actually found fresh ones in Chinatown! Another reason why I love living here – there’s always something new to uncover. If you can’t find pandan leaves, there is also pandan extract and pandan paste – in fact, many recipes will often call for these substitutes instead. Having found both at the supermarket, I purchased them to do a little comparison baking in the kitchen.


Onto the recipe itself: I must confess that this was not my favorite recipe. The cheesecake was easy enough to make and set nicely, but I had difficulty forming it into balls for dipping. The cheesecake was a little too soft to work with, although I think it was an excellent texture for cheesecake: if I had baked it longer, I think it might have turned rubbery. So it was a good cheesecake, but I just had trouble getting it into its final form.

Dipping the cheesecake balls in melted chocolate proved not too tricky either, but I think these pops might store better in the freezer than the refrigerator. Storing them in the fridge kept the cheesecake centers a little too soft so the wooden skewers did not stay in very securely. Ultimate verdict: this is a nice recipe, and very nicely adaptable, but I think I enjoyed it more for the chance to experiment with flavors than actually making them.

In working the pandan leaves, I wasn’t convinced at all initially that these long leaves would actually work as described. They had a grassy smell (naturally), and after blending them with some water to get pandan juice, it still smelled grassy – and tasted that way too. I was certainly glad I had some pandan extract at this point!

I added the juice to half the batter, which fortunately did not change color – I was afraid I’d be breaking the challenge rules! Apparently it takes a lot of pandan juice to add color to a dish – many recipes call for food coloring or pandan paste in addition to achieve the verdant hue. Pandan extract and pandan paste usually have food coloring that will most certainly turn whatever they’re added to quite green!

I added a teaspoon of pandan paste to the rest of the batter and sure enough, it immediately turned bright green. Here’s an image of the two cakes for comparision:


Tastewise, I had yet another surprise. Both cheesecakes tasted very similar. I was so certain the one with pandan juice would taste grassy, but in fact it somehow transformed in the oven into a smooth, creamy cake with an elusive, sweet flavor almost like a floral vanilla – and it no longer smelled like grass. The cheesecake with pandan paste tasted a little stronger, perhaps because of the amount of paste I added, but the flavor itself was quite close. What a pleasant discovery! So I can recommend using pandan extract or paste if you can’t find leaves, as the results are close enough to be indistinguishable.

I’ve almost used up the leaves, but the paste will last me a long time – and now I’m curious to keep playing around with this intriguing new flavor!

Thanks for another fun Daring Bakers Challenge!

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops   

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks 

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening   

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) – Optional   

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed.  Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) afte r each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.   

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.   

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.   

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.   

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.


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Perfection, Once Again

March 29th, 2008 · 104 Comments · Cakes, Events, Recipes


It looks like I came back from New York just in time for Daring Bakers! I need to do a report on my favorite dessert spots in the Big Apple, but of course how could I not participate in this month’s baking extravaganza, especially when it involves Dorie and a cake dear to my heart!

I made this cake before for my blog birthday, and I’m more than pleased to have a reason to make it again. It is a wonderful recipe that turns out a gorgeous cake with snowy good looks, elegant crumb, and pert, clean flavor. I’m afraid I didn’t have time to get creative with the flavors as I’m sure many other Daring Bakers did; freshly home from my trip, I was just glad there was a jar of raspberry jam in the refrigerator and flour in the cupboard!


Never mind jet-lag woes: the cake is a snap to throw together even in a zombie-like post-trip trance. The cake is luxurious; moist and flavorful and yet firm enough to hold its form and cut cleanly. I was particularly enamoured with the pairing of lemon and raspberry flavors the first time I made it, so I was happy to repeat the combination – besides, the raspberry jam does look so pretty next to the pristine white of the cake. It also gives the cake a light freshness, even with four layers.

Dorie’s buttercream recipe is also a winner to me; fast, simple, and nearly foolproof. No need to muck about with cooking sugar or whipping egg whites, and I find its buttery smoothness complements the cake as well. If you’re looking for tips on frosting cakes, be sure to read my post on working with buttercream.

Thanks to Morven for reminding me of how much I adore this cake. And now, I should mention why I’m also so happy that a Dorie recipe got picked for this month – because I met up with Dorie in New York! Of course, I asked her if she knew about the Daring Bakers, and her immediate response was, "They’re doing that Perfect Party Cake, the one where the cake doesn’t rise!" Apparently she found that many people doing the recipe were using self-rising cake flour, which paradoxically led to collapsing cake layers that ended up flatter than intended. Note to all who attempt this recipe: DON"T use self-rising cake flour, and be sure you beat the butter and sugar together thoroughly, as well as the final combined batter, to properly aerate. I’ve never had a problem with having the cake layers rise – then again, when the cake is four layers, you don’t need to worry too much about your layers being too thin! No worries Dorie, I’m a lifelong fan of this cake!


Dorie is basically the most awesome person ever – sweet, funny, ready to take on any pastry (we ate our way through several plates at Payard), and with the best taste in accessories! AND a Daring Baker fan! She was so excited to know that so many people in the blogosphere were being inspired to bake – and here’s the proof!


My present to all you Daring Bakers out there from me and Dorie: Go Daring Bakers!

I’m looking forward to next month’s recipe!

Perfect Party Cake

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

makes 12 to 14 servings


9 oz cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 3/4 fl. oz. buttermilk

4 large egg whites

10 1/2 oz sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

4 oz unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract


7 oz sugar

4 large egg whites

12 oz unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-in pieces

2 1/4 fl. oz. fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For finishing

2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves

1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray or butter two 9" x 2" round cake pans. Line the bottom of each cake pan with a buttered parchment circle.

For the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.

Whisk the buttermilk and egg whites together in a separate bowl.

Combine the sugar and lemon zest in a stand mixer bowl and rub together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and smells like the lemon.

Add the butter to the mixer bowl and beat together with the sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy and light.

Add in the vanilla extract.

Add in the flour and buttermilk mixtures in alternating additions, starting and ending with the flour mixtures. Be sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next.

When everything is added beat the batter for an additional 2 minutes.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 30 minutes in the oven or until the tops are set and springy, and a cake tester inserted into the centers come out clean.

Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for a few minutes, then flip and unmold the cakes (run a knife around the sides of the cakes if necessary). Peel the parchment off and flip the cakes back over right side up on the wire racks to finish cooling.

The fully cooled cake layers can be wrapped in plastic and kept overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

For the buttercream: Combine the sugar and egg whites in a medium heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the sugar mixture constantly over heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.

Remove mixture from heat and pour into a stand mixer bowl. Whisk on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture has cooled.

Switch to the paddle attachment and with the speed on low, add the butter a few pieces at a time, beating until smooth.

When all the butter has been added, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed for about 6-10 minutes until it is very thick and smooth.

Add in the lemon juice and beat until combined. Add in the vanilla.

The buttercream is ready to be used. Place a piece of plastic wrap against the surface until you are ready to use it to prevent it from drying out.

To assemble the cake: Using a sharp serrated knife, slice each cake layer horizontally in half – see this post for tips on cutting cake layers.

Stir the raspberry preserves until it is loose and spreadable.

Place a layer on a cardboard cake round, cut side up. Spread about a third of the raspberry preserves on the cake layer.

Spread a layer of buttercream on top of the preserves. Top with a second cake layer. I found that if you have problems with this, you can spread the buttercream on a second cake layer and flip it over onto the preserve-covered layer – but you have to be very careful doing this or you’ll break your cake layer!

Spread preserves and buttercream on the second cake layer as you did with the first. Top with a third cake layer.

Spread preserves and buttercream on the third cake layer as you did with the second. Top with the last cake layer, cut side down.

Use the rest of the buttercream to frost the sides and top of the cake.

Pr ess the coconut over the sides and top of the cake.

The cake is best served a couple of hours after it is assembled to let the flavors develop. You can refrigerate it for up to 2 days, but be sure it is well covered or the cake will dry out. You should also let the cake come to room temperature before you serve it as it does not taste as good cold.


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Menu for Hope IV

December 9th, 2007 · 3 Comments · Events


I’m happy to announce that Dessert First is participating in the 4th annual Menu for Hope, a global fundraising effort to support the UN World Food Programme. Hosted by the marvelous Pim of Chez Pim, Menu for Hope has grown into a hugely successful yearly event on the blogosphere – last year the effort raised over $62,000.

How does it work? Simply put, you (all you readers out there!) can purchase $10 raffle tickets to bid on a fantastic array of food-related prizes. Each ticket gives you one chance to win a prize of your choice. The money from the purchase of the tickets is processed through Firstgiving, a third party online fundraising company, and goes on to the UN WFP. So not only can you win some really great prizes, like dinners at renowned restaurants or signed cookbooks or stellar wine, but you’re helping a very worthy cause.


I’m proud to present Dessert First’s contribution to the raffle, which is a Deluxe Boxed Assortment of chocolates from Charles Chocolates. Those of you who have followed my blog know that I’ve already written about this stellar Bay Area chocolatier, both here and for Edible East Bay. Charles Siegel, the founder of Charles Chocolates, has been in the Bay Area chocolate scene for over 20 years, and his confections are wonderfully original and wholly delectable. This boxed assortment is a fantastic introduction to his creations, and includes some of my favorites, including the Mojito Heart, Lavender Honey Truffle, and Fleur de Sel Caramels.

If you win this Deluxe Boxed Assortment, you will get in an elegant blue box

-The Classic Collection Assortment, which has two layers of Charles’ filled chocolates

-The Handmade Truffle Assortment, which has two layers of truffles in a range of familiar and exotic flavors

-The Fleur de Sel Caramel Assortment, which contains ten plain Fleur de Sel caramels and ten bittersweet chocolate Fleur de Sel caramels.

A truly sweet prize, if you know what I mean.

Please note that all chocolates are made at Charles Chocolates in small batches and shipped out within three days of creation, ensuring that the customer is enjoying these creations at their peak. Because of this, Charles Chocolates has asked that the prize be shipped to an address in the United States only.

The code for this prize is UW09. If you would like to bid on this prize, simply click here to go the Menu for Hope page on Firstgiving, enter in the number of tickets you’d like to purchase, and note the prize code in the comment area.

You can also go to the US West Coast roundup to see the list of prizes for this region, or to Chez Pim for the entire prize listing.

Menu for Hope runs from Dec 10-21, after which the raffle winners will be announced on Pim’s blog on January 9, 2008. So happy bidding, and good luck – and do bid on my prize!!

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Meeting Elizabeth Falkner and Other Tidbits

November 30th, 2007 · 12 Comments · Events, Personal


One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is, of course, the vibrant culinary scene. It’s amazing to think that I am tootling around the same area as people like Alice Medrich or Michael Recchiuti or a host of other gastronomic luminaries. Case in point: last night, I attended a book signing of Elizabeth Falkner’s new dessert book at Charles Chocolates’ factory and store- talk about a sweet evening!

Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts is a book I got a month or so ago and sadly just have not found the time to try out the recipes. But I read through the whole cookbook and I loved the punky, irreverent aesthetic – as well as it being a showcase of Falkner’s incredible talent and creativity.

In person, Falkner is as funny and outspoken as her cookbook, very knowledgeable and so passionate about her work. It’s not surprising she has a background in art, since she seems to draw her inspirations from all around her and her desserts all seem to be grounded in such strong visual and textural concepts. Whether it’s a deconstructed-and-reconstructed take on apple pie or a literary allusion in the naming of a cake, Falkner’s desserts are witty and intelligent – food for the brain as well as body.

I mentioned that Falkner seemed to enjoy playing with powders and gelling agents in her desserts, much like the savory molecular gastronomists, and she responded that she didn’t really see why experimenting with gels and such should be considered intimidating or strange, since there are tons of ingredients in the world to explore and integrate into what we consider traditional western or european-style pastry. For example, agar agar and tapioca are common ingredients used in Asia as thickeners or binders, yet they are rarely used here. In a way, Falkner seems very similar to Alice Medrich, even though their cookbooks may seem very different, in that both women are curious to break outside the conventional boundaries of pastry and introduce new ingredients and techniques into the language of baking.

Trying some of the recipes from Falkner’s book is surely on my list of New Year’s resolutions, as well as visiting her new restaurant. Here’s a great example of how her mind works: when asked what the desserts at her new place would be like, Falkner replied that they wanted to try and create an invisible dessert, to surprise and confound diners. I’m looking forward to that!

Ok, on to a few little tidbits before the weekend and the beginning of December! (Oh my, how did it get to be that time of the year already!) First of all, I apologize for being so remiss in answering everyone’s comments and questions – I love all my readers, so please don’t desert me for my inability to keep it all together! I have actually answered all the comments from my last few posts – those of you that comment regularly know that I used to respond personally over e-mail, but with the holidays coming up it’s just become too time-consuming, so know that I’ve responded on the post itself!

Second, I am leaving in about a week and half for Hong Kong, hence the reason I’m madly dashing about doing shopping and baking now, since I’ll be gone so soon. However, I will still be posting! and I am participating in this year’s Menu for Hope so please be sure to check back here on Dec. 10th to see what fabulous prize I will be offering! (Hint: there is a tiny clue to what it’s associated with somewhere in this post!)

And lastly, because I like to have a little bit of pretty in all my posts, here is what I contributed to Baking911′s December newsletter: Mini Coffee-Pecan Eclairs. Get my recipe in the newsletter!


Happy weekend, and happy December to you all!

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