Friday, August 16, 2013

One Bowl Triple Chocolate Zucchini Cake

It's zucchini season!

I picked up the largest zucchini I've ever seen at the farmers market last week, and he only charged me a pound for it. There were lots of tasty little baby zucchinis there too, but I wanted to shred mine up and make some chocolate deliciousness.

The best part about chocolate zucchini cake is you can pretend you are being healthy. I'll just have one more slice, because, heck, there's green stuff in it.

But give a slice to someone and don't tell them what it is and they would never know! If you are desperate, then its a good way to trick your kids into eating their veggies. Just let them have a slice before dinner and then they might even try zucchini in its true form when served their real meal. (That's actually true.... studies have shown kids who are given more control over when they have dessert are MORE likely to eat their veggies!)

Sorry for the tangent. This is about zucchini, and what you should do with the inevitable oversupply...

Three words. Eat. More. Cake.

Easy Chocolate Zucchini Cake

adapted from King Arthur Flour

if you use the chocolate chip frosting method make sure you don't overcook the cake. I prefer to sprinkle the chips on the hot cake and not return the cake to the oven. That way when you serve the cake when cooled you still see the chips on top. I like that look - but it is certainly not as polished as a smooth frosting.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose or white spelt flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chocolate chips for optional frosting

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, oil, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until smooth. Beat in the eggs.

Add the half the flour, stir until combined. Add half the buttermilk and stir until combined. Add the rest of the flour, stir well, then the rest of the buttermilk and stir well. Add the cocoa powder and mix until smooth. 

Fold in the zucchini and 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when touched, and it seems set.

To ice the cake: Slide the cake out of the oven, sprinkle it evenly with the 1 cup chocolate chips, and return it to the oven for 5 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, and use a cake spatula or rubber spatula to spread the chocolate chips into a smooth glaze. Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Revolutionary Roast Chicken

I'm not sure why more bloggers don't blog recipes from Cooks Illustrated. Because seriously, you can never cook a mediocre dish when you follow a recipe of theirs. Foolproof. Godly. Good. Just a few adjectives that come to mind when I think of shelling out $7.95 an issue. Aka, even though that's about 50 cents a recipe, I still find it to be money well spent.

The following recipe is the perfect example of why I love CI so much. Here I was with a free range whole chicken in my fridge and I thought I had roasting a chicken down to a T. Why mess with perfection? My way consistently produced great roast chickens.

Well, I am so glad I trusted my intuition that CI knew something I didn't. Because this way of roasting a chicken, my friends, is REVOLUTIONARY. Like, the BEST (dare I say only), yes the ONLY way to roast a chicken from now until eternity, amen.

Buy a free range whole chicken. Follow the recipe below. And be converted.

Revolutionary Roast Chicken in a Pan

adapted from Bryan Roof of Cooks Illustrated

Use a 3 1/2 to 4 lb chicken. If you must use a larger bird increase the Step 2 time in oven to 35 to 40 minutes. I used an all-clad 12-inch skillet which worked perfectly and was surprisingly a breeze to clean up (no burnt-on bits at all.)

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 (3 1/2 - 4 lb) whole chicken, giblets discarded
1 tablespoon olive oil

for optional carrot side dish:
about 4 medium carrots, cut into just larger than thumb sized sticks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon herbes de provence

Adjust oven rack to middle position, place a 12-inch ovenproof skillet on the rack, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Rub chicken all over with olive oil, and rub salt in all over. Tie legs together with kitchen twine and tuck wing tips behind back.

Once oven has fully preheated, place chicken, breast side up, on preheated skillet in the oven. Roast chicken until breast registers 120 degrees and thigh registers 135 degrees. Turn oven off and leave chicken in oven until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 25 to 35 minutes.

Transfer chicken to carving board and let rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes. (If you can wait that long.) Carve chicken and serve.

If you want to make the carrot side dish:
Toss together carrots, oil and herbes. Scatter on either side of chicken in pan a few minutes before you turn the oven off. 

Rhubarb Yogurt Cake

This is one of my favorite afternoon "come over and have a slice" cakes. Back when I went through mountains of dairy it was also a good way to use up any leftover yogurt. Now that I've cut back on dairy I now have to purposefully buy yogurt just to make this cake. I freeze rhubarb (pre-cut into 1/2 inch pieces) just so I can throw this cake together in late summer, or early winter, or whenever my spirits need a spring-time kick.

A note about rhubarb. If you have very large, mature stalks then you might need to peel them. You will know if you need to peel them or not if, when you are slicing them into 1/2 inch slices the peel starts to come off on its own. If this happens, then just peel it off like you would on a celery stalk. (They are the same family, after all.)

This recipe is also delicious with 1 teaspoon of vanilla substituted for the almond.  I personally love the almond note, but my husband prefers it with vanilla. I've also substituted in 1/2 cup of cornmeal for some of the flour with great success. (Although it makes the texture more muffin-like.) Lastly, if you like, you can half the sugar, and pour the batter into cupcake tins and - viola - you have rhubarb muffins - perfect for breakfast and brunch.

One last note. Please use full-fat yogurt. First of all, you shouldn't be consuming non-fat dairy anyway because all the vitamins in milk are fat-soluble, which means, you need to eat the fat in order to actually get any nutrients from it, and second of all, there is a time and a place for low-fat baking, but that time and place is not this blog and not this cake! (Besides a little fat will keep you fuller longer. If you need a nutritional enemy, then please feel free to cut back on the SUGAR! Because that's the pound-gaining culprit.)

Rhubarb Yogurt  Cake

makes 1 10-inch round cake or 1 9-inch square cake
adapted from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, via the Naptime Chef

1 cup plain full-fat yogurt
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose or white spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped rhubarb (1/2 inch pieces)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly oil a 10-inch round cake pan  or a 9-inch square cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a large bowl whisk the yogurt, sugar, salt, and almond extract until smooth. Pour the oil into the batter slowly, whisking until smooth. Add the eggs and whisk the batter again until smooth.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl and fold it into the wet batter until just combined. Pour the batter into the cake pan and scatter the chopped rhubarb on top.

Bake the cake for about 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top springs back lightly when touched.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chocolate Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

My husband is so lucky. I made him not one, but TWO chocolate cakes for his birthday. Granted, he did have to share the first one with my son in a joint "it's your 29th and his 1 1/2" birthday party and he did have to have the one served on his actual birthday decorated to the point of girly oblivion by 3 little girls, but still, he got two chocolate cakes in his honor. How many did I get for my birthday? Oh, wait.... I got none.

I was going to do a double-recipe post, showcasing BOTH chocolate cake recipes, but that seems a bit ambitious for such a sunny summer afternoon. So this time around,  I will share with you the second chocolate cake. A dreamy concoction of a moist, dark, delectable sour cream chocolate cake matched with peanut butter frosting.

The cake was the best I've had in ages, but the frosting - in my opinion - was too peanut butter-y. Depending on how much you love PB you might want to cut back a bit. I did an informal polling of all 12 cake eaters at DH's party and got a slight preference for less peanut butteryness. But it was (accidentally) being paired at the time with peanut butter ice cream, so..... that might have tipped things in favor of the too much PB camp, when actually, it might be the most harmonious ratio when paired with vanilla ice cream. (I personally don't think ice cream belongs anywhere near a piece of good homemade cake, but I risk mutiny at birthday parties whenever I suggest banning it.)

This recipe is adapted from a cake cookbook called Sky High but I found it on Smitten Kitchen. She used a chocolate glaze on top which I skipped. I think it would add a decadent third note and will try it next time I make this. I'm giving link credit to Deb from SK because I've left her wonderfully helpful assembly notes in the recipe.

I was baking this on vacation and only had 2 9-inch cake pans. It turned out just as well, with a slightly longer cooking time and just a little bit of leftover frosting. But leftover frosting is never a problem in my book!

Chocolate Layer Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
from Smitten Kitchen

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake; serves 12 to 16

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. (Deb note: These cakes are very, very soft. I found them a lot easier to work with after firming them up in the freezer for 30 minutes. They’ll defrost quickly once assembled. You’ll be glad you did this, trust me.)

To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. (Deb note 1: Making a crumb coat of frosting–a thin layer that binds the dark crumbs to the cake so they don’t show up in the final outer frosting layer–is a great idea for this cake, or any with a dark cake and lighter-colored frosting. Once you “mask” your cake, let it chill for 15 to 30 minutes until firm, then use the remainder of the frosting to create a smooth final coating. Deb note 2: Once the cake is fully frosted, it helps to chill it again and let it firm up. The cooler and more set the peanut butter frosting is, the better drip effect you’ll get from the Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze.)

To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, put the cake plate on a large baking sheet to catch any drips. Simply pour the glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

In the top of a double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.