Thursday, May 16, 2013

Easiest Chocolate Cake... and Chorizo and Chickpea Ragu

I love that the blogger whom I got this recipe from states that this chocolate cake is enough for two chocoholics, or  six regular people. I made this yesterday afternoon and there is only one small piece left. There were only three of us at dinner! Well there were six, but three were toddlers who were not partaking of the chocolate-coffee goodness. Although I must admit that my toddler had a small piece when he got up this morning at 5:30. (His mommy needed the cake - it was the only thing tethering my sanity to the obscenely early hour.) He stuffed the whole thing in his mouth. I've never seen him devour anything so quickly! I can't say I blame him.

This cake is so easy and so good! I was highly skeptical that a chocolate cake without dairy or eggs would turn out. But it vaulted over my expectations. Another dangerous weapon in my arsenal against 3pm chocolate cravings!

Easy Chocolate Stout Cake
adapted from mrslarkin on

1 1/2 cups all-purpose, or white spelt, flour 
1 cup granulated sugar 
7 tablespoons cocoa powder, not dutched
 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup Guinness Stout 
1/2 cup espresso or strong coffee 
1/4 cup water 
2 teaspoons vanilla 
1 teaspoon apple cider or white vinegar 
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set oven rack to middle. Grease an 8” cake pan.

Whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

In a measuring cup, measure out the coffee, guinness and water. Stir in the vanilla and vinegar. Dump into the flour mixture and stir until almost all combined. Then add the vegetable oil and mix until smooth and silky.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Check with cake tester, which should come out very slightly moist. Remove from oven and let cool on rack.

Dust cake with powdered sugar and serve.


At baby dinner last night, I also served some non-dessert food (honest). And it was this recipe that my two friends both asked for. So, S and E, here it is!

I served this with pasta but I think it would be better over boiled new potatoes or brown basmati rice. This was a hit with my toddler and my husband too - although the other two toddlers at dinner were not as into it; it does have strong wonderful flavors! Yum.

We didn't have any leftovers, but I have a feeling this is a dish that would taste even better the next day.

Chorizo and Chickpea Ragu
adapted from Joanna Weinberg on

300g fresh cooking chorizo (or any good pork sausage, plus 4 extra cloves of garlic and 1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika)
250g pancetta, chopped
1 large red or yellow onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 tbsp dried oregano
400g passata (salted tomato puree)
2 cans chickpeas in salted water

In a large saucepan over medium heat saute the pancetta in a little bit of olive oil until just turning crispy. Add the onions and red peppers and saute until the onion is soft.

Meanwhile, take the sausages and cut them with a sharp knife down the center lengthwise. Peel off the sausage casing so that you have a bunch of ground up sausage and no casings. When the onion is soft, put the sausage meat in the pan and cook until cooked through,  breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon.

Add the garlic and oregano and saute one minute. Stir in the passata and the chickpeas, one can drained and one can with the water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

Serve over new potatoes, rice or pasta, garnish with some chopped parsley, and enjoy!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Olive Oil One-Bowl Brownies

I was going to title this: best butter-less brownies but then I took into account the proportion of the pan that I had personally consumed in the last two days and decided that - based upon that fact alone - they are BETTER than their buttery counterparts.

In my mission to ban butter from all dishes, I had been searching the Internet for butter less brownies and olive oil brownies. Hence the recipe from the week before last. Which is a good recipe and makes what it says it does: pudding-textured brownies. But I desire (dare I say demand?) the only TRUE brownie - dense and fudgey. (I won't even talk to you if you insist a brownie should be cakey. You aren't worth the debate. And you are probably English.) So in my mission to create a butter less fudgey piece of chocolatey heaven I finally did what I should have done in the first place. I simply took my simple, go-to brownie recipe (bakers-one-bowl, amen) and substituted extra virgin olive oil for butter. And oh how it worked! A dream. A diary-free dream.

If you live in England and can't get unsweetened bar chocolate then don't attempt to make these. I'm telling you just adding less sugar will NOT work the same way. Lindt makes a 99% bar but it's a bit hard to find. Speciality stores like panzers import Bakers unsweetened chocolate from America. (wish they imported ghiradelli instead!)

Best Brownies
Adapted from Baker's One-Bowl Brownies

Do try and use cake flour... It really makes a big difference.

4 oz unsweetened chocolate (bar not powder!)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 medium eggs
Scant 1 cup cake (ultra-fine) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (optional)

Put the chocolate and oil in a large sauce pot over low heat until chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and let cool several minutes. Stir in the sugar then the vanilla and almond extract. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour and salt, stop when flour is just incorporated. Fold in the pecans, if using. Spread into a 9x9 inch pan and bake at 350 degree F until just set and tester comes out with very damp crumbs, about 20 minutes. Do not overbake. Brownies are much better under done than over done!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Olivia's banana bread

I told a friend recently that I wasn't trying to attract a readership to this blog because I couldn't be bothered with readers who didn't know how to cream butter. Her response was - or course - how do you cream butter? I'm still not backtracking on this one - I will not be one of those bloggers who teaches baking picture by picture (I have neither the time nor the inclination) but creaming butter is of importance in this recipe. You can just melt the butter and the bread will taste just fine, but not fantastic. Here's a basic guide: how to cream butter. If you find your butter is still too solid, then put it in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time on the lowest heat setting possible. To bring your eggs to room temperature quickly immerse them in a bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes.

The only other thing to be absolute sure of is that you use OVERRIPE bananas. I cannot stress enough how important this is! I'm talking black bananas. Bananas that have brown spots on the inside too. Too often I taste banana bread that has an artificial banana taste to it. This is the result of using ripe-for-eating bananas. Just.... trust me on this one. Here's a picture of how ripe I mean:

A good trick is to put over-ripe bananas in the freezer. I usually end up with one banana per bunch that end up getting over-ripe enough, and I just plunk it in the freezer. When I have three I just defrost overnight in the frig and make banana bread in the morning!

Historically, I use 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 white flour. More recently I've been using 2/3 whole grain spelt and 1/3 buckwheat.  And for sugar: historically I just used white sugar but more recently have been using agave syrup or unrefined sugar (which is a bit coarser than normal sugar.) All work great so use whatever you have to hand.

While I've posted other recipes that I've tweaked and twisted from the original, this recipe truly is mine. I've adapted it over time from so many different sources and made it so many dozens of times that it merits my moniker.

Olivia's Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed over-ripe banana (usually about 3 bananas)

Preheat the oven to 350 F and generously butter a loaf pan or 12 muffin tins.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, with a handheld mixer or a wooden spoon, cream the butter and the sugar. (See above.) Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the banana. Dump in the flour mixture and stir just until combined.

Pour into buttered tins and spread evenly. Bake until the top just springs back from your fingertip's touch, or until a tester comes out with moist crumbs. (About 45 min - 1 hour for the loaf, 15-20 minutes for the muffins. All depends on your particular oven, your altitude, your baking container and the weather. Not necessarily in that order, and not joking.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spelt brownies

My 17 month old son has been waking up every morning at 4:30 am the past few days. I don't mean waking up, crying and then going back to sleep. I mean, waking up, crying, and then deciding that it's time to start the day. This is so not okay and makes for some cranky babies and parents. Cranky pants need chocolate. And so, in my sleep-deprived delirium yesterday, I made brownies. When first out of the oven I wasn't too impressed. But overnight they cooled, and the flavors developed, and oh my - they are GOOD. I adapted them from a recipe whose author described her aim of making brownies that had the texture of those made from a mix but without the chemical aftertaste. These do indeed have the texture of mix brownies - more pudding-like than fudgey - but the flavors of the olive oil, dark brown sugar and quality chocolate make for a much more gourmet experience. And with no wheat, no diary and no refined sugar they could even go for a label of healthy.... ish.

The dark brown sugar and agave can easily be swapped out for white sugar or light brown sugar. The olive oil can be replaced by any other oil, but keep in mind that vegetable oil (or any other flavorless oil) will make the brownies more bland. Spelt is easily replaced by white or whole-wheat flours. Next time I am going to try buckwheat instead of spelt (making them gluten-free), and all agave as a sweetener. One thing to keep in mind.... do NOT over-bake these. My oven heats unevenly and one half of my pan of brownies was a tad overcooked. The overcooked ones are not good. The other side is divine. Remember.... an undercooked brownie still tastes good. An overcooked one is ruined.

Spelt Brownies
adapted from Melissa Clark via the NYTimes

 Don't overbake these pudding-textured treats!

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons boiling water
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup spelt flour
2 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 baking pan.

Put the cocoa powder in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and whisk together until smooth. Add the finely chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Next whisk in the oil, then the eggs - one at a time, then the vanilla and lastly the sugars and salt. Whisk well after each addition, and when adding the brown sugar make sure you whisk out all the lumps. Gently fold the flour into the chocolate mixture. Stir in the chocolate bits.

Bake for about 25 minutes - or until just set. A toothpick will not come out clean; these brownies set as they cool and so might still look underdone when they are actually done. Do NOT overbake. It will ruin the texture, making them dry and coarse.