Tuesday, April 24, 2012

chocolate pear brownie cake: gluten-free yumminess

It's almost May...but it feels like it's late November. Wind blowing and rain falling down hard. Then softly with the sun poking its little nose in once in a while. We had a short preview of summer in March that I almost wish never happened (almost), just so I wouldn't be longing for it so badly. What a tease this weather has been. sigh

I never understood why but summer brings about this carefree and relaxed attitude that seems to transcend to everyone. Warm weather and sunshine equals instant happiness.

But Lisa, I thought your favorite season was autumn? Why yes, yes it is. But the very beginning of summer makes me so giddy. I'm sure you know that feeling. Just like that first kiss. 

Ice cream everyday and walks around the city without ever feeling cold. It feels so liberating. For some reason I also feel more inclined to have friends over for dinner and drinks.

I recently hosted a little get-together with some great friends for do-it-yourself paninis, extra delicious sangria and chocolate cake. Gluten-free chocolate cake to be more precise. Sure, it isn't exactly summer yet but it's getting there. And the sangria, which was made by a friend using home-made wine and lots of rum, definitely helped. 

Summer to me also means quick and simple desserts. Although this cake may have a few steps, it is actually very quick and easy to make. Each step takes a few minutes and it is really easy to bring it all together. The great thing about this cake is that you don't have to worry about how it looks. Yes, it will sink in the middle and yes the sides will cave in and be all wonky. But that's ok, because it's what's inside that matters. Warm, moist brownie cake with chunks of extra soft poached pears. And no flour. Just yumminess.

This gluten-free cake, actually more like brownie, is moist, decadent and sinfully delicious. It may not be as pretty as other cakes but what it lacks for in looks, it makes up for in taste. The original recipe called for pureed chestnuts, but I had some pears on hand and decided to add those to the mix instead. I love the combination of chocolate and pears....so yummy! Warning: this cake is very rich but certainly worth the indulgence.

chocolate pear brownie cake

Yields one 9-inch cake
Recipe adapted from Weekend Baking by Sarah Randell


6 1/2 oz (200 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cubed
5 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 poached pears, cubed (recipe below)

For poached pears:
2 medium-sized pears (I used Bartlett)
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
(you can also add half a split vanilla bean, a cinnamon stick, anise stars, ginger, etc for taste)

For the poached pears: Peel, core and cut pears in half. In a small sauce pan, bring the water, sugar and any addition to a boil, add the pears and reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer about 15-25 minutes until you can easily poke through with a knife. Drain and leave to cool completely. Cut in cubes when cooled.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of lightly simmering water (bain-marie). Stir until the chocolate and butter have melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Take the bowl off the heat and let cool slightly.

Put the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of the sugar and the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and clean the mixer bowl and whisk for the egg whites if you are using the same one. (Note that it is imperative for egg whites to be whisked in a super clean bowl free of grease, otherwise your whites won't rise). Whisk the whites until they form medium peaks, then start adding the 1/4 cup of sugar a little at a time while whisking until stiff peaks.

Using a large, clean spatula, carefully fold the poached pears and the melted chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Finally, fold the beaten egg whites into the whole mixture. Be as gentle as possible so that you keep as much air in the mixture as possible. Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until well risen and sides come out clean when a toothpick is inserted. The centre will be moist but that's why it's so good! It will sink in the middle, but it's normal. Leave to cool completely. When ready to serve, carefully remove cake from pan and lightly dust with icing sugar or cocoa powder.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

easter bunny carrot cake

Yes, I realize that this is a little late now, but I just had to write a mini post and show you the cute little easter bunny cake that I made this passed weekend. I love the delicate pastel colours and the bunny hiding in the tulips.

I made a super moist carrot cake with a tangy lime cream cheese filling. I doubled the carrot cupcake recipe (click here) that I made last year and baked it in two 6" cake pans, increasing the baking time to about 40 minutes.

cream cheese icing

12 oz (375 g) cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups icing sugar
1 - 2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add icing sugar gradually and add lime juice to taste. You can also substitute the lime juice for 1 tsp of vanilla extract. This yields enough to ice a 6" cake with 3 layers.

I hope you all had a lovely weekend filled with sunshine and chocolate!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

armenian cheoreg: easter bread


In my family there are certain traditions that will always take place. Here are a few of them:

the gift-opening order goes from youngest to oldest
there must always be double the amount of food for the people there
all the "kids" must take a picture in front of the Christmas tree despite our grumbling after listening to "how come my camera doesn't work?...oh wait, no batteries"  
watch my mom make all the food

eat cadbury creme eggs until I become a creme egg
play "who's egg is strongest" by tapping the tip of your hard-boiled egg on someone else's to see who's breaks first 
watch my mom make all the food
eat an overwhelming amount of hard-boiled eggs
watch my mom make Easter bread
make Easter bread with my mom

Every year my mother makes the most delicious Easter bread. Similar to Challah, but (gasp!) better in my opinion (I can say that because my best friend is Jewish?). Cheoreg is the most especially special bread that bring a deliciously sweet smell to the house as it's baking. It's amazing while it's still warm (did someone just say Nutella?) and still amazing after it has cooled down. Every year my mom makes it and every year I'm too busy to be able to learn how to make it. Well, not this year my friends. I finally got my chance and I'm here to share it with you.

Except that the dough didn't rise properly. Eff. 

Poor little me thinking that I jinxed it. My mom always says that Cheoreg is really tempermental. It doesn't like to be made at any other time of the year and you have to make sure that all the ingredients are at the right temperature. In this case, the melted butter was a little too hot which probably killed the yeast a little. It still worked...but it wasn't perfect. The taste however...so perfect. Just sweet enough and oh so buttery.

Now you're probably asking yourself, "what am I going to do with 6 breads?". Eat them. All. Or, freeze a couple. Here is exactly what's going to happen. As soon as they come out of the oven, one will be devoured within 15 minutes if you have a hungry family. Two will be eaten throughout the week. You may (or may not) give away one or two if you're feeling generous. And the last ones can go in the freezer to be enjoyed at a later time. Trust me, it's worth it. 

And if you read the ingredients, you're also probably wondering, "what the what is mahleb?" Mahleb, mahlab or mahlepi (depending on where you come from) is a spice made from the seeds of the St-Lucie Cherry. The cherry stones are cracked and the seeds inside are ground up to a fine powder. It's commonly used in Middle Eastern baked goods. It has a particular taste that I can't describe but it really gives the bread its uniqueness and shouldn't be omitted. You can find it in Middle Eastern grocery stores. 

I hope you enjoy this treat as much as I do. What are your traditions? And most importantly, what will you be baking this year?

Easter Bread (Armenian Cheoreg)

Yields 6  breads (or more or less depending on how you separate it)

12 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups milk
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 tbsp salt
2 envelops (16 g) active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (for yeast)
1 tbsp ground mahleb
2 egg yolks (from brushing top)


Sift flour, salt and ground mahleb into an extra large bowl and set aside. Place warm water for yeast into a small bowl and sprinkle yeast on top with about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Whisk until blended and leave to rise, about 10 minutes. Note: when dissolving yeast, the water should never be hotter than 35 degrees Celsius. If the water is too hot, the yeast will die, but if it's too cold then it will not rise. If you're unsure, use a food thermometer. Also, always remember that sugar feeds yeast, but salt is its enemy! Never pour salt directly on top of yeast, unless you're feeling particularly evil :p

Meanwhile, melt the butter, sugar and milk in a large sauce pan until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should only be warm and never hot. If it's too hot, leave to cool slightly or transfer to a bowl to cool down. (If you stick your finger in it, it should be lukewarm). Beat eggs in a separate bowl. 

Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the yeast, eggs and melted butter/milk. Gradually blend everything with a wooden spoon. Once your have a more solid dough, start kneading it by hand. Knead the dough until everything comes together and your hands stay free of dough. It should not be sticky! (But it will be oily). Check if it's ready by sticking your finger or fist into the dough and seeing if it springs back after removing it. Form a nice ball and cover bowl tightly with plastic film. Leave to rise until it doubles in size, about 4-5 hours. 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. When the dough is ready, slowly punch down and divide into 4 or 6 equal balls (use a scale if you feel like being super accurate, unlike myself who's too lazy for that). Cut each ball into 3 slices, roll each slice with the palm of your hands until it is a long piece and braid the 3 pieces together. Continue with the other balls. Let the braids stand for about 1/2 hour on the baking sheets until they rise some more. Then brush the tops with egg yolk (make sure you get the cracks). Bake at 350 C for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and bottoms are lightly browned.  Leave to cool on baking sheets (or if you're anything like me and my brother, start picking at it while it's warm and oh so tasty).

Have it for breakfast or at tea time. My favorite is to spread cream cheese and jam on it. Although I should warn you that this bread is addictive and you'll probably want thirds and fourths (second helpings are a given). 

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