Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Chocolate-nut Loaf

I keep hearing how fantastic this chocolate-nut loaf is by Pierre Hermé so I thought it was about time I tried it. I have his book Desserts in which I used his lemon cream recipe for my lemon tarts. It was spectacular; by far the best lemon cream I've had. I'm eager to learn more from this great chef.
This loaf is full of surprises; it goes against every expectation of of an everyday chocolate loaf. It bursts with flavor from the toasted nuts to the dense moist decadence of the chocolate cake, emphasized by rich chocolate chunks. I really love the sharp green color of the pistachios against the dark chocolate cake.
I have to admit, I didn’t stick to the recipe entirely. I did not add any hazelnuts; instead I opted for extra pistachios and almonds. In a way, I’m pleased with this change. The loaf was a lot nuttier in flavor than I expected and I think the strong flavor that hazelnuts give would have been too much. Of course, I’m sure others would beg to differ, so I have written the original recipe below but also mentioned where I have made changes.

Chocolate-nut Loaf:
(Adapted from Pierre Hermé's Desserts
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 7 tablespoons very good cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar (I added 2 extra tablespoons)
  • 5 ounces almond paste
  • 4 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (I substituted these for more pistachios and almonds)
  • 1/3 cup blanched chopped and toasted almonds
  • 1/3 cup chopped pistachios
  • 3 ounces good bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks (I used Valrhona Manjari)
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon butter (melted and cooled)

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Prepare an insulating layer for the cake by stacking two baking sheets, one on top of the other.
Butter a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan and set aside.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder in a bowl and set aside.

Add the sugar and almond paste to a mixer and beat on a medium speed until they are well blended.
(or use a large bowl and a hand held electric whisk)

Add the eggs one at a time beating for two minuted each time.
Then turn the mixer on full speed and whisk for 8-10 minutes until the liquid has formed an emulsion that looks like mayonnaise.

Reduce the mixer to a low speed, add the milk and combine.

Sift in the flour ingredients and mix until homogeneous.

Fold in the nuts, chocolate chunks and melted butter.

Pour the cake batter into the loaf pan and bake at 350F for 60-70 minutes.

Allow to cool on a rack.
You can serve the cake at this point, although it's best to wrap in a double thickness of plastic wrap or foil and allow it to "ripen" for a day before cutting it into slices and serving.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Pfeffernüsse is a traditional German Christmas cookie. It is quite deeply spiced with a sweet peppery tone and perfect for the Christmas season.

There's several cookies I bake around the holidays and this is definitely one of the first that comes to mind and I've finally made it.

I can't believe I'm even mentioning Christmas, Halloween hasn't even happened yet, so I'm just thinking of these cookies as a delicious cold weather treat. The warm spices in this will certainly make you feel cozy.

These cookies are very similar to lebkuchen, although lebkuchen is much more cake like. I always bought lebkuchen and pfeffernüsse from the Christmas German market in Edinburgh every single year. This year I decided to make them myself.

It's really nice to have the smell of pfeffernüsse cookies in my house early this year. Whenever you buy these cookies, as soon as you open them the whole house permeates with its aroma, so you can just imagine the smell of them straight out of the oven.

(makes 24)

  • 1 cup +2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons black treacle (or molasses)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

In a bowl combine the flour, baking soda and all the spices, set aside.

In another larger bowl beat the sugar, butter and treacle together with an electric whisk until smooth.

Add the eggs, lemon zest and vanilla extract and beat again.

Then fold the flour/spice mixture into the wet mix until completely combined.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. 

Form the cookie dough 2 inches apart using a mini cookie scoop.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 350F (you will need to do this in a few batches).

Allow to cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes.

Dip each cookie in a bowl of powdered sugar until completely coated.

Keep these in an airtight container and they will last a couple of weeks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Maple Pumpkin Muffins

Autumn just makes me go pumpkin mad! You could eat these muffins everyday and never get tired of them. There are so many pumpkin bread and muffin recipes out there, but after a bit of testing I think I can finally say I've come up with what I would call my favorite pumpkin muffin. 

I remember when I was 9 years old at school in Edinburgh we had an American substitute teacher who brought us pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Of course being from the UK, I had no idea what Thanksgiving was and thought the idea of eating pumpkin was bizarre. We really didn't like it. Looking back at that memory now, I can't believe that I could have possibly not liked pumpkin!

It's been bitterly winter cold here in NY this week and almost took away my lovely autumn mood. Autumn baking should be accompanied by bright blue skies and scenic amber foliage, but the leaves seem to be falling faster and it's always dark and grey outside. What happened to the East Coast's well acclaimed harvest season?

Well, while autumn is hiding, these muffins will certainly prolong the season. I love the combination of maple and pumpkin together; two of the best fall flavors. The texture of the muffins is very moist and springy and they are incredibly light.

I really love the way the pumpkin seeds toast on top and add a little crunch to the muffin and the maple drizzle allows the maple flavor to stand out more boldly against the spicy pumpkin flavor.

I'll be making these muffins every week now until I'm ready for Christmas muffins. I'm really enjoying the beautiful autumn scent they've given to my apartment.

Maple Pumpkin Muffins:
(Makes 12)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaped teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup and powdered sugar for the maple drizzle.

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, yogurt and pumpkin puree.

Then sift in the all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice, fold together.

Then pour in the maple syrup and fold just enough to combine.

Line a x12 muffin tin with paper cases.

Fill each paper case to the top with the batter.

Sprinkle the top of each muffin with pumpkin seeds.

Bake in the oven at 350F for 25-30 minutes.

When the muffins are done, place on a rack and allow to cool fully.

For the maple drizzle mix together 2 tablespoons of maple syrup with enough powdered sugar to thicken it and drizzle over the muffins.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chocolate & Pumpkin Squares

Trick or treat! Well, now that I've been decorating the apartment with pumpkins and little ghosts for Halloween, I thought it was about time I baked something for the holiday. Normally I would never even think about Halloween until the day before it, let alone really do anything for it but here in the States, its quite the contagious holiday.

I was really happy the way these little cake bars came out. The chocolate pumpkin cake is extremely moist and has a lovely crumb, yet holds its shape perfectly when cut into squares. Your taste buds will really pick out the bold pumpkin and chocolate flavors and the aroma of these with the spices added are heavenly.

The frosting is just a simple buttercream with a pinch of spice to compliment the cake flavors and the chocolate drizzle on top brings back the boldness that is current in the cake, balancing out the layers and bringing all the flavors together.

I will gladly make these again in a few weeks for Halloween.

Chocolate & Pumpkin Squares:
makes 9 (3x3") squares

For the cake:
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 3 drops black food coloring

Pre-heat oven at 350F.

In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

In a larger bowl cream together the brown sugar and butter with an electric whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract and eggs and continue to beat.

Fold in the pumpkin puree and buttermilk.

Add the black food coloring and whisk just until the color has evenly combined.

Pour into a 9" square cake tin and bake at 350F for 35 mins.

Allow to cool fully.

For the frosting:
  • 3 tablespoons butter (softened slightly)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 20 drops orange food coloring
Add the softened butter to a bowl and whisk constantly while slowly adding half of the powdered sugar.

Add the milk and whisk.

Then continue to whisk while slowly adding the rest of the powdered sugar.

Finally whisk in the vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice and orange food coloring until well combined.

When the cake is completely cool, begin to spread the frosting, covering the top of the cake smoothly. Place the cake in the refrigerator while making the drizzle.

For the chocolate drizzle:
  • 3 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cocoa powder

Add the chocolate chips, heavy cream, butter and cocoa powder to a saucepan and heat
on a very low heat, whisking constantly until it has all completely melted and come together.

Pour into a piping bag and drizzle the chocolate over the cake.

Refrigerate the cake for at least an house before cutting into 3x3 inch squares.

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