Birthday Cake…(one of) my guilty pleasures

Do you ever have a craving that just will not go away? Is there something that you crave and you eat, but after a few days or weeks there is that little voice in the back of your head screaming ever so lightly? For me, its chocolate cake (and chocolate chip cookies but that’s another story).

So a couple of weeks ago my whole family got together to celebrate my sister and mother’s birthdays (they are only born 2 days apart!). I got a text requesting a chocolate cake and my first thoughts were :HELL YEA.

Being a pastry chef I have to admit that most sweets don’t make me super excited, I am the type of person that adds extra salt to my cookie recipes or douse my carrots and cucumbers with soy sauce and lime (don’t judge its delicious).  But there is something about chocolate cake that just makes me crazy. Have you ever seen the movie Matilda? Remember the scene with the chocolate cake? Mouth-watering…..

Anyway, back to the birthday cake that I made, I spent a good amount of time looking through my recipe collections and finally decided on using David Lebovitz’s Devil’s Food Cake recipe. I love this cake; its moist, chocolatey and not too sweet. I gave it my own twist by adding a raspberry ganache (simply fold in about 1/4 to 1/2 raspberry jam into some of the ganache from the recipe) between the two layers. Yum! The result: A beautiful, juicy, heavenly cake…But now that its been a couple weeks, and the craving is slowly starting to return….

The Silverspoon

For those of us who like to cook, we are always in search of the perfect cookbook. But what makes a perfect cookbook? Can there really be just one?

The reason I love cookbooks is because there are literally thousands of viewpoints on different techniques, cuisines, themes, and so on. Whenever I am traveling, I usually like to buy a cookbook that is written for locals versus something that is made for tourists because it tends to be a lot more authentic and is fascinating to see how different authors around the world communicate to their readers about food and cooking.

One of my favorite books to cook out of is The Silverspoon, which is exactly that. A cookbook for Italians that includes all the dishes that Italians like to eat and prepare. The edition that I own has been adapted for English-speaking readers. According to the book, English language cookbooks usually  have very detailed step by step descriptions for how to prepare the dish. Although its been adapted for English-speaking readers, the authors of The Silverspoon, made a huge effort to maintain the authenticity of the recipes and include some ingredients or methods that may seem unusual to us. For example, the other night I made Bread Soup with Tomato, something I had never had and didn’t know how it should taste. It was interesting because the recipe was quite bland for my palate and I ended up dousing the soup with Sriracha and added way more salt than I think it calls for.

What I think this book was intended to do, was to give its readers a basic understanding of Italian food and cooking, and to encourage cooks to branch out on their own. I have cooked a couple of things out of this book and so far, it has been a great learning experience and, thanks to the support of my husband, I have decided to cook my way through this book in an effort to learn more about Italian cooking and to further my skills as a chef! Coming up….Shrimp Risotto!!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Bread

Is it just me or does it seem like fall just does not want to come to California this year. I know that (and I send my deepest condolences to all those affected by Sandy) many parts of the States are experiencing their own climate changes (yes I said it!), so I really can’t complain that us Angelinos are “suffering” from day after day of 80 degree bright and sunny days. I just want to be able to put on a sweater, curl up by the TV and eat some delicious fall baked goods. There is something so absolutely wonderful about the taste of pumpkin, the crunch of pecan pie, and the  smell of cinnamon emerging from the oven.

One of my favorite things to bake (regardless of the season) is my pumpkin-chocolate chip bread. This weekend I refused to let the heat win and decided to whip up a batch of this glorious bread. It is moist, full of spice and the pumpkin pairs divinely with the chocolate chips. I wanted to use my new chocolate chips (Cacao Berry Mexique) that I had bought at surfas, but they were absolutely disgusting. They were waxy and tasted like dirt, and ended up using Ghiradelli Chips.

This bread also keeps really well and is wonderful toasted with a spoonful of Valencia peanut butter with sea salt. So lets keep hoping that it will finally cool down and I can start making some mulled wine!!

Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/3 cup water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup (9 ounces) canned pumpkin puree

1/2 c neutral-flavored vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate chips

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat loaf pan with melted butter or cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger and salt until thoroughly blended. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and blend well. Add the pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla extract and blend well.

2. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Add the chocolate chips, stirring until evenly distributed. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

3. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely (difficult as this might seem) before removing from pan and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices. Wrap left overs in plastic and store in refrigerator for 4 days.

Chocolate-Sunflower Shortbread Cookies

Ok, so now that I have had my come-to Jesus moment with home baking, I am ready to start having some fun! This week I helped out a family friend with a Seed Freedom Awareness Lecture,I was asked to bring some baked treats for the working group meeting and decided what better to bring than something with seeds! I had some sunflower seeds lying around and decided to make some chocolate shortbread cookies with the toasted seeds.

I discovered the wonders of shortbread about 2 years ago when my chef at the time asked me to make her a batch of pistachio shortbread. I’ve had shortbread before, but never any that was worth writing home about. The recipe she gave me though, was so incredibly mouth-watering that I became a devout shortbread fan. What I love about shortbread is that you can really play around with flavors and textures. You can add nuts, fruits, seeds, chocolate, the list goes on. It also doesn’t contain any eggs, so the dough has a pretty long shelf life and actually freezes quite beautifully. I adapted her recipe for the cookies that I brought on Monday, by omitting the pistachio paste and nuts, and instead added  Valrhona Cocoa Powder, and of course the toasted sunflower seeds. Feel free to play around with this dough by adding whatever you are in the mood for!

Chocolate-Sunflower Shortbread Cookies:

210 grams flour

40 grams good quality cocoa powder

240  grams butter, very soft

4 grams sea salt

60 grams toasted sunflower seeds

75 grams powdered sugar

-In a standing mixer, cream the butter and the powdered sugar until just combined. Add flour, cocoa powder, salt, and seeds. Mix until just combined.

-Remove from mixer, cut 2 large squares of parchment paper. Using your hands divide the dough into two equal parts. Roll the dough into 2  uniform logs. Place the logs onto the parchment paper and carefully, but tightly, roll up the dough into the parchment. Refrigerate for twenty minutes. Preheat oven to 330 degrees farenheit.

-Remove dough from refrigerator. Cut uniform discs, and place onto baking tray. Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Chocolate dough can be tricky so this is a good way to practice telling doneness by touch and sight! Make sure your oven is accurate and you keep a close eye on the cookies.