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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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

  3. hddonna

    said on June 7th, 2017:

    I finally got my chance to bake this when my daughter-in-law and grandkids came for a visit–it was a belated birthday cake. Everyone loved it. I only had a very thin sliver, and it was marvelous. My DIL enjoyed all the parts, but said her favorite was the cake with the apricot puree–she ate the whipped cream and ganache separately. We agreed that the torte with the puree would be great by themselves if one wanted to cut calories and still have a big treat. Even though I was prepared for a big production, I was taken aback just how many dishes and appliances were used–blender, food processor, and mixer with two different bowls and beaters, assorted measuring cups and spoons, saucepan, baking sheet, bowls for separating the eggs, and enough other items to make a complete dishwasher load, with a minimum of hand-washing to boot. And that did not include the springform pan or the ganache bowl, which still contained the cake and the ganache when I went to bed. (It came out of the pan easily even after about six hours.) I am sure my husband would be thrilled if I’d do it all again for his next birthday!
    I missed the note about using a large pan for the water bath, and it did take a lot longer to bake, probably close to twice as long as called for. As there are no doneness tests given, I didn’t know how to be sure it was done. In the end, I used a thermometer in the middle. It came out with lots of goo on it until about 160 degrees, when it was still very moist but slightly firmer when shaken. The resulting torte did not sink much for me, but it was still extremely moist and a bit gooey.
    I’d call it a big success and worth the time and the dishes–but not something to be undertaken lightly! One big plus in my estimation is that I did not have to find room for a cake in my already-crowded-with-food-for-a-feast refrigerator.

    Wow, Donna! Yes, I do recall there were tons of dishes to wash. Am so glad you enjoyed it. It’s truly a delicious dessert, but certainly on the “over the top” kind of scale. Tarla doesn’t test cakes with a thermometer, so am not sure what the “right” temp would be for this one since it’s supposed to be extra moist. . . . carolyn t

  4. hddonna

    said on June 7th, 2017:

    I was also wondering whether you simmered the apricots covered or uncovered. I did them uncovered, since covering wasn’t mentioned, but after 30 minutes most of the water had evaporated and the apricots were still not tender, as they were sticking up out of the syrup. I added a bit of water and covered it and gave them another ten minutes, which worked fine. There was still not much liquid, and I ended up adding a bit more when I pureed them, as they were too thick to blend. Of course, it is easy enough to add water as needed to achieve the consistency desired. It would be helpful to know about how much puree there should be. I ran out of puree too soon, too–a quarter of the torte is left, and no puree, so I’d make more next time.

    I don’t think I have an answer to that. Tarla scooped a bit onto each plate so there was just enough for all the servings. I’d say she put about a tablespoon additional puree on each plate, so not really very much! And then there was some in the torte itself, too. The cooking of them – it also depends on how old the dried apricots are – the fresher ones that are still almost sticky will cook faster. I hate it when they get “old” and it takes forever to rehydrate them! The other option would be to just let the dried apricots sit in hot water for a couple of hours before trying to cook them – that way they wouldn’t take long – or AS long. . . carolyn t

    I would most likely do the apricots covered because you want to retain all the fluid and it helps in the rehydrating process too… carolyn t

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