Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Special Chocolate Cake

On February 13, 2012, it was the 10th anniversary of my mom's passing. It was a hard day. Harder then any other anniversary so far. It was just so hard to believe that a full decade had passed. Where did the time go? And why does it still feel like it was only yesterday that we lost her?
(For those of you that don't know, my mom was a Type-1 diabetic. She lost her life-long battle with the terrible disease at the young age of 50).

My sister and I decided to get together, along with our families, to have a big dinner to celebrate our mom's life. I made mom's favorite spaghetti with meat sauce, along with salad and garlic bread. Then for dessert I made her a special chocolate cake. How was the cake special you ask? Well, my mom loved to bake. She would make the best treats for us, but could never eat any of them, because of her diabetes. Throughout our childhood, mom would often joke to my sister and I that her one wish in life was be to bake herself the biggest, richest chocolate cake, and then eat the entire thing herself.

So, I decided to finally make her that rich, decedent, over-the-top, chocolate cake she always wanted. I believe this cake would have made her so very happy, even if she could have only had just one bite.  Please enjoy this recipe, in honor of my mom :)

Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake
(recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour)

For the cake:

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T cornstarch (I used more all-purpose flour)
3/4 cup dutch-process cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp espresso powder (optional, as a flavor enhancer, but I highly recommend using it)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups water

For the filling:

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces heavy cream

For the icing:

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 cup)
4 ounces heavy cream


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8 X 2 inch round cake pans with non-stick baking spray. If you do not have 8 inch cake pans that have 2 inch high walls, use 9 inch round pans instead.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa, baking powder, espresso powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well.

Add the eggs, oil, vanilla and water. Mix well until smooth.

Pour the batter evenly into each of the prepared pans. Bake the cakes for 35-38 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester, inserted in the middle, comes out clean.

Cool the cakes for at least 15 minutes in the pans before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Once cool, use a long serrated knife to cut both of the cakes in half horizontally, resulting in 4 cake layers.

Next, make the filling. Heat the 6 ounces of heavy cream and 12 ounces of chocolate in a saucepan or in a microwavable dish, until hot and the chocolate is very soft. Stir until the mixture turns into a smooth, thick ganache.

Place one cake layer on a serving plate (if desired, cut strips of parchment paper and place under the edges of the cake to catch any drips).
Spread 1/3 of the ganache filling over the bottom layer of cake, but don't spread it all the way to the edge.
Add the second layer of cake and top with another 1/3 of the filling. Repeat with the third layer of cake and remaining filling.
Top with the remaining cake layer.

Then, make the icing. Heat the 4 ounces of heavy cream and the 8 ounces of chocolate in a small saucepan or in the microwave until hot and the chocolate is very soft. Stir until the mixture turns into a smooth, thick ganache, just like the filling.

Pour and spread the icing over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Once it's done dripping, smooth the sides with a spatula, if desired. (At this point, I topped my cake with shaved dark chocolate for decoration).

Pull out the parchment strips from under the bottom layer of cake. Allow the cake to rest, covered with a cake cover or large bowl, until the chocolate is set. Overnight is the best, but several hours would be ok.

Cut the cake, serve and enjoy!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles

It's almost Valentine's Day! I like to bake my husband special things throughout the year, but for Valentine's Day, I devote all  of my energy to making him something totally chocolate. I can't think of a better way to achieve that then with truffles!
My husband loves Lindt hazelnut truffles so I decided to make him a homemade version of them. I think they came out awesome. The only change I would make next time is to either up the amount of the hazelnut liqueur, or try using a bolder hazelnut flavoring, like this one that I found at KAF. I just think the hazelnut flavor in the filling of these truffles is a little weak, but they are still super yummy! I know my husband is going to love them!

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles
(recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Ina Garten)

1 cup hazelnuts, chopped
3 1/2 ounces good bittersweet chocolate (about 1/2 cup)
3 1/2 ounces good semisweet chocolate (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 T hazelnut liqueur (I used Frangelico)
1 T prepared coffee (warm is ok)
1/2 tsp good vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place chopped hazelnuts on a baking sheet (I lined mine with foil). Roast for about 10-15 minutes until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Coarsely chop the bittersweet and semisweet chocolate and place in a medium sized bowl (try to use a bowl that can either be microwaved or used as a double-boiler).

Heat the cream in a sauce pan or in the microwave until boiling. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate. Using a wire whisk, stir the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth (if the chocolate doesn't completely melt, place the bowl over simmering water-like a double-boiler, or microwave at 50% power for 30 second intervals, until it's completely melted).

Whisk in the hazelnut liqueur, coffee and vanilla. Cover the chocolate and refrigerate until firm enough to scoop, about an hour or so.

Scoop out small dollops of chocolate and roll into balls using your hands. Work quickly because the chocolate will melt. Place chocolate balls onto a wax or parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate again for 15 minutes or so until the chocolate has firmed up again.

Roll the chocolate balls in the toasted hazelnuts, lightly pressing them into the chocolate so they stick. At this point the truffles are finished and can be stored in the refrigerator, but I decided to dip them in melted chocolate as well. I melted some dark chocolate candy melts, dipped the truffles in it and then sprinkled a few chopped hazelnuts on top. I think they came out very pretty. You could also just drizzle a little melted chocolate over the top as more of a garnish. Whatever way you decide to make them, they are sure to be fabulous!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Spinach, Mushroom and Artichoke Stromboli

Stromboli's are very easy to make, and the flavor possibilities are endless. My family likes traditional pizza flavors in their Stromboli's, but I prefer more grown-up flavors and spice in mine. This particular recipe is one of my favorites, and it's rare that I get to make it because my kids (and husband) are not a huge fan of any of the ingredients. I hope you enjoy it!

Spinach, Mushroom and Artichoke Stromboli
(pizza dough recipe from Annie's Eats. Filling is my creation)

Basic pizza dough (can use store bought pizza dough and skip this step):

2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup warm water
4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature

For the toppings:

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (I used reduced fat 2% milk)
About 2 cups coarsely chopped baby spinach (I just rip it)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup canned or jarred artichokes (in water), drained, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely diced red onion, optional
1 tsp Pizza Seasoning, optional (I buy it from KAF. It adds a lot of flavor)
Pinch to a 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes, optional
Kosher salt, to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp or so)
Pizza sauce, for serving
1 egg, for egg wash

To make the pizza dough:

Sprinkle the yeast over the 1/2 cup of warm water using a 2-cup measuring cup.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour and salt, mix lightly using the paddle attachment.
Add the room temperature water to the warm water-yeast mixture in the same measuring cup.
With the mixer on low, add the water/yeast to the flour along with the olive oil. Mix until a cohesive dough is formed.
Switch the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Knead the dough on low until it is smooth and elastic.
Transfer the dough to a large lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat the dough with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
When the dough has doubled, punch it down to deflate it, and then transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece into smooth round balls. Cover the dough with a clean, damp cloth, and let it relax for 10-20 minutes (not more than 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On the same floured surface, roll out each dough ball into a large rectangle, about 10 x 14 inches.
Sprinkle the dough with 1 cup of the cheese, leaving 1/2 inch from the edges. Then sprinkle 1/2 tsp of the pizza seasoning (if using) on top of the cheese. Then layer the spinach on top of the cheese, and sprinkle with the salt, and with the red pepper flakes. Then add the mushrooms, onions (if using) and the artichokes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top, along with the remaining pizza seasoning.

Start rolling the dough, like a jelly roll, starting from the long side farthest away from you, keeping the roll fairly tight. Pinch the ends to seal as you go. I recommend brushing the edge with water to help seal it. (Sorry, I couldn't get a picture for this step--it's hard to roll and take pictures at the same time!)

Place the Stromboli, seam side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking mat. Cut 3-4 small slits along the top. Lightly brush the top with olive oil and then sprinkle with a little more pizza seasoning (optional). Then brush the Stromboli with the egg wash.

Place on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice into 2 inch thick pieces. Serve with warm pizza sauce for dipping. Enjoy!