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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Desserts, on May 5th, 2017.

choc_apricot_torte

Oh my. Decadence on a plate. No counting calories on this one; just so you know . . .

It isn’t until I get home from a cooking class and enter a recipe into my software, MasterCook, that I glance at the calories and/or fat, or carbs for any dish. Tarla Fallgatter prepared this at a class a month or so ago, and everyone swooned over it. Me included. The torte is so soft, tender, melt-in-your-mouth chocolaty, and hits all the buttons for tasty. It’s so tender that it sinks in the middle – hence you can see the far right end of the cake has almost completely collapsed. Oh, but that didn’t detract one single calorie from enjoying it. Someone in the class asked if this was a chocolate lava cake, and Tarla said no, it wasn’t, although one could think so.

Tarla oftens does chocolate tortes, cakes, etc. That particular cooking class group loves chocolate too. Tarla loves chocolate, I’m guessing, although she never eats a bite of anything she fixes at the cooking classes, unless it’s to check for seasonings. This torte contains some apricot puree in the cake itself, and she served it with some additional on the plate, along with a scoop of sweetened whipped cream. There’s a chocolate ganache frosting on top, then toasted almonds sprinkled on top of that. It does have to be surrounded in foil (the springform pan, in a single sheet so water can’t permeate) and then baked in a water bath. Not hard, but requires a few extra steps and minutes. Do use a pan (for the water bath) that is much bigger than the springform pan because you need to steam to escape. Tarla baked this in a round pan that wasn’t too much bigger, and the cake took much longer to bake. Just so you know . . .

Serve this when you’re having a very light dinner – not at the end of a multi-course heavy meal as it’s very rich.

What’s GOOD: I hate to say this, but everything about this torte was delicious. Fantastic, really. I ate every smidgen. Will I actually make it? Maybe, but as I suggested above, not to serve after a heavy dinner.

What’s NOT: nothing except the excess of calories! Oh, and maybe the requirement to bake this in a foil covered base and in a water bath. Kind of a nuisance.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Apricot Torte

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor, chef, 2017
Serving Size: 10

CAKE:
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate — coarsely chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter
8 large eggs — separated
3/4 cup sugar — PLUS 2 tablespoons
3/4 cup apricot puree (see below)
1/4 cup Amaretto — or brandy or rum
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almonds — toasted
1 pinch salt
APRICOT PUREE:
1 cup dried apricots
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
3/4 pound bittersweet chocolate — coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature
2 tablespoons Amaretto — or brandy
GARNISH:
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with sugar and vanilla to taste

1. APRICOTS: Simmer apricots with water, sugar until very soft, about 20-30 minutes. Let cool; add vanilla and puree until smooth. Set aside. You will have more puree than needed.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan; line with parchment and butter the parchment. Using extra-wide foil, wrap bottom half of springform pan so none of the water bath will be able to enter the springform pan.
3. CAKE: Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl and heat over simmering water until melted. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pulse the flour and almonds in a food processor.
4. Beat egg yolks and HALF the sugar until very thick and very light colored. Gently stir the apricot puree (3/4 cups of it only) and Amaretto into the chocolate mixture and the pinch of salt. Gently fold the almond flour and chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
5. In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then add remaining sugar and continue beating until thoroughly incorporated. Fold the egg whites, by thirds, into the chocolate mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Place the cake pan into a larger, open baking dish or pan (10×14 pan, or a large round or oval) and add enough hot water to the cake pan barely floats. Tent the top of the springform pan with foil. Bake for about 40-50 minutes.
6. Remove cake from the water bath and allow to cool on a wire rack for at least an hour. Gently unmold the cake from the springform pan.
7. GLAZE: Combine the chocolate, water and cream in the top half of a double boiler and melt over simmering water. Remove from heat and add butter and Amaretto. Allow to cool until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Ladle about half the glaze over the top of the torte, tilting it slightly so it spreads as evenly as possible. Use remaining glaze to drizzle on the side of each cake slice or drizzle on top of the cake when served.
8. GARNISH:: On each plate place the cake slice with a drizzle of glaze, then garnish with a spoonful of the remaining apricot puree and a dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over all.
Per Serving: 916 Calories; 78g Fat (70.1% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 264mg Cholesterol; 95mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 6th, 2017:

    Years ago, I made an apricot chocolate mousse cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was from a magazine called Cuisine, which I subscribed to until it ceased publication around 1985. (The current or recent magazine of the same name bears no resemblance). I have all the issues still, but have never been able to locate the recipe or anything like it. This seems much richer, but I think it would do the trick nicely! Can’t wait for an excuse to make it! Maybe my daughter-in-law’s birthday in a couple weeks…

    Oh, I’m glad you’re going to try it. The finished torte is just SO good, but I even hesitated posting it because of the calories. Cut small slices, maybe? . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on May 7th, 2017:

    Yes, small slices for sure! I hadn’t noticed the calorie count–wow! I’ll have to make mine just a sliver. I’m not sure how you can cram that many calories into a single nine-inch layer! I was just visiting one of my daughters this evening. She reads your blog, too, and she had also noticed this post and thought it sounded fantastic.

    It really is fabulous. One of the best recipes for chocolate. The apricot part just makes it even better. . . carolyn t

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