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bistro chocolate cake

Bistro Chocolate Cake

As a tried and true kosher carnivore (well, I guess, officially an omnivore), I am always seeking out good parve (non-dairy) desserts. I often substitute margarine for butter, soy milk for regular, but am always excited when I find desserts that are naturally parve, like those that use oil as their shortening As a fan of all things French and searching for a chocolate cake to make for the housewarming of my “sister mother” Judy, the self proclaimed cupcake queen and sweets fan, and her foodie but savory-only baker husband, Bruce,  I was thrilled to find this gateau au chocolat in my bistro cookbook.

Sharon O’Connor’s Bistro: Favorite Parisian Bistro Recipes, chooses a bistro in each arrondissement and shares some of the chef’s signature dishes. I made the cake because I loved the recipe. You might recall I have a little love affair with proper bistros. Proper bistros. And this delightful book chats a bit about each bistro and the environs in which it was raised in the “neighborhood walk” section preceding the recipes:

“The streets of Au Pied de Fouet’s seventh-arrondissement neighborhood are lined with foreign embassies and French ministries…. The Musée d’Orsay is a very pleasant fifteen-or twenty-minute walk from au Pied de Fouet. The art museum was originally a train station, built in the late 1800s to serve southwestern France. Orsay houses a major collection of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century art, including many famous Impressionist works. The museum which still retains the open, airy feel of the belle-epoque train stations, is extremely popular with Parisians, as well as art lovers from all over the world.”

My affinity for grandiose train stations probably started as early as my teens when I used to travel from DC to Philadelphia to visit my grandmother. I loved the large open-ness of 30th Street Station where Bubbie would always meet me by the statue on the East side of the station. Years later, I toured Western Europe with a Eurail pass and an over-stuffed backpack on wobbly wheels. In my entryway, I have a print of a photo on exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay, especially à propos at this train station-turned-museum.

L. Mercier - Accident gare de l'Ouest le 22 octobre 1895

Luckily this cake is fairly simple, and pardon the cliché, but no matter how many mistakes I made along the way, my gâteau was no train wreck. Yes, yes, groan all you want. That was really bad!

Bistro Chocolate Cake (Gâteau au Chocolat)

Adapted from Sharon O’Connor’s Bistro: Favorite Parisian Bistro Recipes. This is a pretty forgiving recipe (just my kind) for a nearly flour-less chocolate cake. 

The book says this serves 8, but I can’t believe 8 Frenchies would gobble this cake up It’s not overly sweet but is quite rich. I believe it serves closer to 10-12.

- 7 oz bittersweet chocolate (chopped) – I didn’t have bittersweet, so I used a mix of unsweetened and semisweet

- 6 eggs, separated

- 1/3 C sugar

- 1/3 C unbleached all-purpose flour

- 1 C ground blanched almonds

- 1/4 t salt

- 1/3 C vegetable oil

- 2 t baking powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 8 oz sweet chocolate, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 300˚F. Grease the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

Prepare the chocolate. In a double boiler (I use a small metal bowl) over barely simmering water (making sure not to let the bottom of the bowl hit the water nor any steam escape or the chocolate will seize), melt the bittersweet chocolate; remove from heat and set aside, allowing to cool to room temperature (don’t put in fridge).

Beat the egg whites. Using an electric mixer, beat the 6 egg whites until stiff, glossy peaks form. I cheated a little bit and added a pinch of cream of tartar to aid in the process when my eggs weren’t beating so nicely. If you are dependent on your mixer for everything, carefully transfer the whites to another bowl so you can use your mixer again to cream the remaining ingredients.

Prepare the almonds. Since I didn’t have any almond meal or pre-ground almonds, I made my own. Place a little over a cup of blanched almond slices into a food processor (I used my mini one) and pulse until you form a fine powder. You will probably need to add some of the ½ C sugar to prevent the almonds from forming almond butter.

Mix everything else together. In a medium bowl, beat the remaining sugar and egg yolks together until thick and pale (by hand, or in your mixer…). Stir in the flour, ground almonds, salt, oil, baking powder, and baking soda, and beat until thoroughly blended. Pour in the warm melted chocolate and stir until mixed. Stir on one-fourth of the egg whites. Gently fold in the remaining whites until thoroughly blended.

Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes (I found 40 minutes to be perfect), or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

The original recipe calls for enrobing the cake in sweet chocolate. I thought this would be too rich. I served it plain and with a fruit salad, but I think it would be perfect with a dallop of spiked whipped cream (or some sort of whipped parve substitute).

Judy loved the cake so much that she took a quarter of the cake for herself and came to my apartment and made a copy of the recipe before I had a chance to post it.

The cakes freezes pretty nicely.

Half the cake, thawing

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not so traditional

 

 

 

pile o' cookies with ranunculus

I called up my friend Joanne on her birthday last month to see if I could make her anything in her last few weeks of pregnancy. In typical fashion, she said, “Oh you know me, I’ll eat anything.” We started tossing around ideas of things that would travel well and as we were chatting, I realized that the almond butter chocolate chunk cookies that I have been making for some years — a somewhat less traditional variation on plain old chocolate chip cookies — would be perfect.

See, Joanne revels in being not-so-traditional. Not as a form of rebellion, but just in a happy, come as you are, no apologies manner.

In a high school where we were told that if you’re good in math and science, you go on to medical school, she eventually went to veterinary school. And she studied in the Caribbean. She announced to me and most others in attendance at the dinner the night before her wedding that she was pregnant. And then there was her father’s poem and toast at the wedding itself. I cannot repeat it here but suffice it to say, it will never be forgotten by anyone in attendance.

So, I raise my glass (of milk) to Joanne — and Jordan — for continued, um, bliss.

Almond Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

cookies and milk

I initially adapted this from a recipe in the December 2003 Bon Appétit Christmas cookie issue –Hazelnut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. Extra bonus points if you can find, cut, and paste the amusing commentary that I wrote in to Epicurious a few years ago.

Makes 6 dozen bite-sized cookies (2-3 nibbles). The cookies are pretty decadent, so keeping them small is a good idea, but somewhat dangerous because you can keep popping them in your mouth. The nut butter keeps them moist and chewy while fully cooked. Set your timer for 12 minutes which really is the perfect amount of time for baking per batch.

- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, room temperature
- 1 cup creamy unsalted almond butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon rosewater, orange blossom water or vanilla extract (I used orange blossom water today)
- 2 C add-ins: 1 C  semisweet chocolate chips (I personally hand-chop a Callebaut (information in Resources) semisweet – 54.5% cocoa – bar) + 1 C slivered almonds OR  1 12-ounce package semisweet mini chocolate chips (2 cups) OR 2 C slivered almonds if you do not like chocolate

Stir almond butter to incorporate any oil that may have risen to the top (I sometimes microwave mine for ~30 seconds if necessary).

Using electric mixer, beat butter/margarine, almond butter, and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and extract (orange flower water, rosewater, or vanilla).

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into bowl and mix. Dough will be very crumbly.

Chop the chocolate and gently stir into mix with almonds if using.

Callebaut semisweet chocolate, chopped

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before shaping.)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat.

Using 1 level tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms of hands into 1-inch balls and then flatten slightly. Arrange 1 inch apart on prepared sheets. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets on racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool.

cookies cooling on rack

Store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper at room temperature. Will stay fresh up to 5 days and will survive an overnight journey in the mail!

almond butter chocolate chunk cookies

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I never brought cool lunches to school. I actually can’t remember what I used to bring at all. But I do remember that Tali, one of the Israeli kids in my class, used to bring chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches. Chocolate and peanut butter! How was this a sandwich? But it was. And her mom (or dad) packed it for her almost every day. hashahar parve

This was before Nutella was on all the grocery store shelves. And it was a pure chocolate spread on one piece of bread, peanut butter on the other. Let’s just say that Tali was pretty popular at lunch time.

I assume the chocolate spread her parents had brought over from Israel was the the famous Hashahar which I just learned has been part of Israeli memory and taste buds for over 50 years:

The [Hashahar] factory is a Romanian invention. It was established by six brothers and two sisters from the Weidberg family – Yaakov, Shaul, Haim, Alter, Yeshayahu, Shabtai, Rivka and Elka – who immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s from Romania. The family settled in a hut in Kiryat Ata, near Haifa, which the eldest sibling, Yaakov, had organized ahead of their arrival. Among the make-work jobs they did, a few of the siblings specialized in the production of sweets at the Davidovich factory in the Ir Ganin neighborhood.

“They were a poor family and were looking for a way to make a living,” says Moshe Weidberg, Alter’s son, who today heads the factory together with others from the family’s second generation.

In the 1940s the brothers decided to join forces. They found an investor, bought a plot of land in the industrial zone of Haifa Bay and in 1949 opened the factory. At first they made a range of sweets. “They started with candies, chocolate substitutes and boxes of chocolates,” Weidberg continues. “But what really caught on was the chocolate spread.”

When candy imports increased in the 1980s, they decided to abandon most of their products and concentrate on the main thing. Today the plant, which has 50 employees on two production lines, also makes baking chocolate and cocoa powder, but mainly chocolate spread. It comes in three flavors: classic dairy, parve and nuts. “They are a traditionalist, modest family,” says Weitz, who is also connected to the family, by marriage. “They did not want to be an empire and they are not looking for gimmicks.”

The factory produces many tons of chocolate spread a month. Sales figures place it first in the chocolate spread market in Israel, ahead of competitors such as Elite and Ferraro. The company also exports goods to Australia, Europe and America. “In the United States our main competition is from peanut butter,” Weitz notes. “But recently there is an increased demand there for substitutes, because it turns out that many children are allergic to nuts.”

- Haaretz.com: Things Only Israelis Know, Part 1: Hashahar Chocolate Spread

Now, eating chocolate spread in Israel feels like part of the cultural experience and a rite of passage to me. I’m sure there are other rites of passage that people will be more than happy to share about their teen tours of Israel, but let’s keep this blog about food, OK?

When I went to Israel for a month in college with Sar-El/Volunteers for Israel to work on an army base, some of my fondest memories include the three marriage proposals I got (in English, Hebrew and French) from soldiers driving through the fence pictured below as I painted it (if only the proposals would keep coming….), fixing nagmashim (non-armored personnel carriers), and late night conversations over spoonfuls of chocolate spread that Orit (we gave one of our fellow volunteers a Hebrew/Israeli name since she didn’t have one) bought in town as she shared with us her gems and pearls of wisdom. Orit was about 5 years my senior, so she had a lot of gems and pearls to share.

Sar-El

I painted this fence. It was the site of several marriage proposals. 3 to be exact.

On a trip to the Netherlands last year, where I visited friends in Amsterdam and Den Haag (I love pronouncing it the Dutch way — with the guttural “h” ending), I learned about a very different version of a chocolate sandwich spread which is also kosher (dairy) and has a fair bit of history and local tradition.

De Ruijter has been around since 1860, making chocolate (and other flavors) sprinkles and flakes. Apparently the pink and white sprinkles (“muisjes”) are traditionally used to decorate cookies when a girls is born and the blue and white ones for a boy. The chocolate sprinkles and flakes are eaten on toast for breakfast. I didn’t have a chance to buy any when I was in the Netherlands since I had very limited luggage space, but when I moved to Cambridge  I was thrilled to find that Cardullo’s in Harvard Square carries them!

Rejoice — another version of the chocolate fix. I bough a box of milk chocolate flakes and and every once in a while, I make a little midnight snack, recalling my time in Holland. The flakes have a slightly gritty texture when eaten out of the box, but they manage to keep their shape while melting ever so slightly on a warm piece of buttered toast, and the grittiness fades.

De Ruijters chocolate sprinkles on toast

the flakes are starting to melt

What I also find so clever about the DeRuijters packaging is that the opening for pouring out the flakes is in the shape of a classic piece of bread.

check out the spout...a little slice of bread!

check out the spout...a little slice of bread!

I think I’ll buy some sprinkles next.

KASHRUT NOTE:

In the Netherlands, there is a local Dutch kosher list available in a searchable format online in English and Dutch. The Dutch one seems to be more comprehensive for some reason. On the English list, these flakes and sprinkles are listed under the category “sandwich spreads” and are spelled “de Ruyter.” The pink and white sprinkles are not kosher for some reason — hmmm….gender discrimination? Unlikely. Probably the red dye.

I also have a friend in Amsterdam whose family runs a kosher grocery store and will gladly answer questions or help out with local kashrut issues. I can put people in touch if you’re going to visit and want help.

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