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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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, Miscellaneous, on June 12th, 2017.

bing_cherry_compote

There is something beautiful about a big pile of ripe cherries. Maybe it’s just because I love the color red!

This isn’t a new recipe post, but when I bought 3 pounds of cherries the other day, I knew I’d be making this compote that’s a real favorite of mine. But, of course, only when cherries are in season. Which is NOW! I posted this recipe in 2009, and again in 2012, and I haven’t changed it; it’s still cherry_pitsthe same recipe from Russ Parsons. That I’ve been making for 8 years. Every single year in cherry season, I buy them and make this. I hoard the results, because I adore putting some of the compote over vanilla ice cream. And I nearly lick the bowl. I’m posting it again just because you may not have read my posts going back that far. I want you to make this, while cherries are in the markets! The only downside to the recipe is having to pit the darned things. But I use a olive pitter and I sat at my kitchen island while I did it.

The above bowl contains the pitted cherries, a sprinkling of sugar, whole cloves, whole allspice and cinnamon sticks. When you cook them, it’s nice to use a big, wide pan so you can put the cherries in one layer and cook them JUST until they’re cooked through about halfway or so. You want them to retain their color and shape. You add red wine to the mixture which helps them steam-cook. This year I didn’t have a bottle of red wine opened, so I pulled out an old bottle of so-so Madeira that had about a cup or so in it, and I used that instead of regular drinking red. After they’re cooked you add a big dash of balsamic vinegar, which is just the icing on the cake, IMHO. These taste better if they’re allowed to chill in the syrup for a few days – that way the spices permeate all the cherries, and the balsamic too.

bowl_of_pitted_cherries

Yes, I definitely do like the color red! Having heaped all the cherries into a bowl, I just had to take a picture of them before I cooked it all. And here, below, is the finished product:

cherry compote 3

What’s GOOD: there’s nothing quite like the taste of ripe cherries in a delicious spice syrup. Absolutely loverly on top of vanilla ice cream. No nuts. No whipped cream. JUST the cherries. They keep for several weeks. I don’t think they’d freeze well – they’ll likely get very soft and possibly lose their color too.

What’s NOT: maybe the pitting process, but that’s about it. It’s simple to make.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Fresh Bing Cherry Compote

Recipe By: Adapted from How to Pick a Peach, by Russ Parsons
Serving Size: 8

1 1/3 pounds cherries — fresh, Bing
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole clove
1 whole allspice berry
1 stick cinnamon — about 1 1/2 inches long
1/2 cup red wine — (I used more)
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Pit the cherries. You want to have 1 pound of pitted cherries.
2. In a bowl combine the cherries and sugar. Stir and set aside for about 30-45 minutes.
3. Add 1/4 cup of red wine, stir and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into a flat, wide skillet (just large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer). Combine in a cheesecloth bag the cinnamon stick, clove and allspice. Tie together and place it into the pan with the cherries.
5. Bring the cherries to a boil and simmer at a fairly high heat for about 10 minutes, while the juices begin the thicken. The cherries will still be in one piece.
6. Remove from heat and add the balsamic vinegar to the mixture. Cool, chill, and serve over vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 81 Calories; 1g Fat (7.8% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 12mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on June 10th, 2017.

plum_blueberry_kuchen

My mouth is watering looking at that photo. So delicious and in-season with berries at their prime.

Kuchen (koo-ken) is the German word for cake. It originated, obviously, in Germany, yet it has also been embraced by Russian populations ‘round the world too. When I did a search on the ‘net to verify the definition (I was quite certain it meant cake, but thought I’d best check), I found a blog from a California girl who is now a farmer’s wife in North Dakota. Apparently there is a heavy German and Russian or German-Russian population in that neck of the woods. Her version of a kuchen uses a raised, yeasted dough, and she makes them in bulk and freezes them. They’re a very popular dessert in that neck of the woods.

kuchen_ready2_bakeAnyway, THIS kuchen is not a yeast dough, just a simple enough cake batter (thick, though) that forms the base. It’s scraped into a springform pan and spread out to the edges. Fruit is added, then a sugar/cinnamon mixture and baked. Then a thin egg/cream mixture is poured over the top and baked another 10 minutes. Cooled. Then a powdered sugar top a nd served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

This cake is not as sweet as some, and in fact, kuchens are often served more like a coffeecake or for a brunch, than as a dessert. But, no matter what, it has to do with the sweetness of the fruit – you can use peaches or plums and blueberries or raspberries. Apricots would likely work fine too – just use a stone fruit for the bottom fruit and a berry of some kind for the top. This recipe was one prepared by Tarla Fallgatter at a cooking class I attended last month. It was served warm with the sweetened whipped cream on the side. Yum.

kuchen_just_bakedWhat’s GOOD: it’s VERY easy to make – just have good, ripe fruit to start with. The batter is easy to mix up, so is the topping, and also the egg/cream that’s baked at the end. I loved the taste of the fruit with the cake. A keeper. It should freeze well if you wanted to double it to make two – one for the freezer. Just press plastic wrap directly onto the fruit (don’t add the powdered sugar), wrap well in another plastic layer and foil and freeze. This dessert is very low in fat as desserts go.

What’s NOT: only that there are a few steps to preparing this – none hard – but a few extra steps to get the toppings finished. Do serve it warm if you can. Or reheat it slightly if you make it a few hours ahead.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Plum and Blueberry Kuchen

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter cooking class, 2017
Serving Size: 8

FRUIT:
2 pounds plums — OR peaches
1/3 cup fresh blueberries — OR raspberries
KUCHEN BATTER:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour — sifted
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk — or half and half or cream
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 cup unsalted butter — melted
TOPPING:
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2nd TOPPING:
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons heavy cream
GARNISH:
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar — sifted
SERVE with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. If you oven runs hot, lower it to 425°F.
2. Sift flour and mix with sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
3. In a food processor pulse eggs with milk and zest. Pulse in melted butter and then add the flour mixture. Batter will be thick.
4. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and scrape batter into it, spreading evening.
5. Combine topping and mix well. Set aside.
6. Arrange plum or peach slices around edge of pan, filling the center with remaining slices. Sprinkle with berries (blue or raspberry). Sprinkle top with sugar-cinnamon mixture.
7. Bake kuchen for 25 minutes and remove from oven.
8. Beat yolk and cream together with a form and pour over the top of the kuchen. Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes.
9. Coolin the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove springform side. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar (through a sieve or pre-sifted) and serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream
Per Serving: 326 Calories; 11g Fat (28.9% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 103mg Cholesterol; 279mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on June 6th, 2017.

raspberry_gratin

Hmm. That serving doesn’t exactly convey the deliciousness of this dessert. Do scroll down to see the 2nd photo of this heavenly dessert.

This was the dessert I served at the wine and food pairing awhile back. Because I’d had to make a quick trip to the Bay Area to attend a memorial service for a dear friend, I flew home on Saturday evening and knew I’d have next to no time the following day to be making a fancy dessert. I looked through what I had in my recipe file that was super-easy and this dessert just jumped off my computer screen at me, begging me, make me, make me. Smitten Kitchen made this dessert and she raved about it. RAVED! Now I see why!

I’m just going to say – this dessert is most likely the simplest dessert I’ve ever made in my entire life, except scooping ice cream and chocolate sauce into a bowl. And I cannot say enough wonderful things about it. Sublime? Unctuous? Oh, gosh, just make this, okay?

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Preheat your oven to broil

2. Mix fresh raspberries with sour cream (gently) and pour into a flat gratin dish

3. Press dark brown sugar through a sieve onto the top of the mixture

4. Broil for a few minutes until the brown sugar has melted and begun to caramelize – and eat immediatelyspoonsful_rasp_gratin

I would probably have served it in small bowls (you don’t need big servings of this – it’s rich and sweet) but we had paper plates to serve this since there were many of us . . . It needs no embellishment (i.e., no whipped cream or anything). Ideally serve this with coffee or with an after-dinner wine (port, sauternes, Madeira, etc.). We discussed this, that it might be lovely with quartered strawberries instead of raspberries, or even blueberries. Blackberries ought to be fine with it too. Or a mixture of them. The fruit and sour cream mixture gets warm only – not hot – though the sugar layer DOES get hot. By the time you scoop servings out and deliver it to people, it should be sufficiently cool to eat.

I’ll be making this again and again during prime berry season.

What’s GOOD: how unbelievably easy it is to make, first and foremost. But the flavor is just so smooth and unctuous. There’s just no other word for it.  And the little bit of crunch (think crème brulee) on top add really delicious texture to it. Rich? Yes. Satisfying? Yes. Worth making? Absolutely yes.

What’s NOT: it does need to be made at the last minute, but truly it takes about 2-3 minutes to make it. Get out the dish, the berries, the sour cream and the brown sugar (and the sieve) and have them at-the-ready and you’ll have dessert in no time. For my party I bought 2 large clamshell boxes of raspberries (I think they were $4.99 each), 2 tubs of sour cream and it served 16 with about 2 servings left over. I did small servings, though.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Raspberry Brown Sugar Gratin [Russian Gratin with Raspberries]

Recipe By: Adapted from Jeremiah Tower’s New American Classics via Regina Schrambling, but on Smitten Kitchen’s blog
Serving Size: 12

4 cups fresh raspberries — or any berries
4 cups sour cream — or creme fraiche
2 cups dark brown sugar

NOTES : There are a lot of ways you can play around with this – flavoring the sour cream with lemon, vanilla, cinnamon or almond; using a mix of berries, etc. – but it is flawless the way it is. Want to fancy it up for fancy people? Make it in individual ramekins or tiny gratin dishes. Swap thick, full-fat Greek-style yogurt swapped for sour cream and serve it at a brunch.
1. Preheat broiler.
2. Gently fold raspberries and sour cream together in a shallow 1-quart dish. Press the brown sugar through a sieve or mesh colander so that it sprinkles evenly over the dish. (don’t use a sifter, it doesn’t work.)
3. Run the dish under the broiler until the sugar just starts to caramelize. Eat at once. Keeping: The leftovers are equally delicious, even suitable for a splurge breakfast.
Per Serving: 323 Calories; 16g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 55mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 29th, 2017.

applesauce_bundt_cake_caramel_icing

Oh yummy. A tender, moist cake made with vegetable oil and applesauce. But this isn’t one of those that omits any other fat – the vegetable oil is in lieu of butter, obviously. But it’s super moist because of the home made applesauce added into the batter.

Needing a nice, big dessert to take to one of the Easter celebrations I attended (I was blessed to go to my son’s wife’s family celebration on Saturday, then on Sunday I drove to San Diego to be with daughter Sara), this recipe jumped out at me. Originally it was on Food52, but has since appeared a few other places as well. I have a new Bundt cakepan – a heritage one (but new, $36) that you can find on Food52’s website. It’s made by Nordic Ware, so you know it’s a good, solid cake pan. My older one I bought many years ago at a discounted place and it’s tweaked around the top edge, so it never bakes into a perfect round. Since I use it often, I decided I wanted this new shaped one.

applesauce_bundt_cake_coolingI bought Granny Smith apples, and used one Gala apple I had on hand too, but I used nothing but a  little bit of water and cinnamon (no sugar), and it took about 10 minutes to make it. Well, except for the time peeling the apples. The cake contains 1 1/2 cups of the home made applesauce. You can use canned applesauce (unsweetened) and buy chunky if you can find it. I decided I wanted to make my own, and once cooked, I used a potato masher to make sure pieces were smaller.

applesauce_cake_icingThe cake itself has some nice, warm spices in it (including a small amount of ground black pepper, plus cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg). It uses dark brown sugar, hence the darker color of the cake. The black pepper isn’t really discernible, but am certain it wouldn’t be as tasty without it, so don’t skip past that ingredient. The cake baked in 45 minutes at 350°, and I tested the temp – it was exactly 206°F. Perfect. I let it cool overnight (loosely tented in plastic wrap, then made the caramel icing the next morning. I had one FAIL in this – my fault – I forgot to sift the powdered sugar, so you can see little bits of powdered sugar in the glaze. Not a deal breaker. The cake was easy easy to make.

I made it a second time a few days later for another group of guests at my home. I pressed the powdered sugar through a sieve that time and got a much smoother icing/glaze. It was also just perfectly baked. Such a winner of a recipe.

applesauce_bundt_sliceWhat’s GOOD: well, the texture (moist, tender) and flavor (lovely apple flavor throughout and the combo of spices are perfect). The caramel icing adds a nice fillip to the serving. It might be over the top with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Don’t go the whipped cream route – it wouldn’t go with the icing, I don’t think. Altogether lovely cake – a definite keeper. I heard many uhmmmms from guests who ate it.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Applesauce Bundt Cake with Caramel Icing

Recipe By: Food52
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce — home made if possible
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
GLAZE:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into chunks
1/2 cup light brown sugar — or dark brown
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar — SIFTED (important)

NOTES: You can use canned applesauce (chunky if possible) or make your own, but unsweetened. The icing is very sweet, so you don’t need added sugar in the applesauce. Do SIFT the powdered sugar or you’ll have lumps.
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a standard-size (12-cup) Bundt pan (or spray with nonstick cooking spray).
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and spices, and whisk to mix well.
3. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the eggs with both sugars until light. Beat in the applesauce, oil, and vanilla until smooth. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture, and beat briefly, just to combine. Use a rubber spatula to fold gently, making sure that all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a rack before turning it out and allowing to cool completely. (The cake should be room temperature before applying the glaze).
5. When you’re ready to glaze, set the cooling rack (with the cake on it) on top of a rimmed sheet pan. This will catch drips.
6. Place the butter in a medium (2- to 3-quart) saucepan with the brown sugar, cream, and salt, and set over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute exactly, and then pull the pan off the heat. Leave to cool for about 2-3 minutes, and then gradually whisk in the SIFTED confectioner’s sugar until you have a thick but pourable consistency. Only add as much sugar as you need to make a thick glaze. If it gets too thick, add a little cream to thin it down.
7. Immediately pour the glaze over the cake, evenly covering as much surface area as possible. Let the glaze set before serving the cake.
Per Serving: 419 Calories; 19g Fat (41.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 375mg Sodium.

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.

Posted in Breads, Desserts, on May 1st, 2017.

moist_banana_pineapple_bread

Ever get a craving? I seem to mention them more frequently, of late. Banana bread was my craving.

If I didn’t buy bananas – for them to get extra ripe – with black spots all over them – then there would never be a need for a banana bread. Right? I don’t eat many bananas – this goes back to when my DH Dave was alive and as a diabetic, he knew bananas were not very good for him – all carbs and lots of sugar. Not good for a Type 1 diabetic. SO I didn’t buy them very often – really only if I planned to bake with them. I’d read a story somewhere on the ‘net at one of the blogs I follow, about a banana bread, and in the post they mentioned the Kona Inn. Memories drifted back. Hmmm. Yes, I think I remember having had banana bread at the Kona Inn. Oh no, it was at the Willows in Honolulu. But never mind . . . it was banana bread that sparked the interest. And there was a mention of baking such banana bread with or WITHOUT pineapple. Well, I decided then and there that it needed to have pineapple.

Scanning through my many recipes – and remembering my own favorite banana bread and also one that is a prize winning banana bread. also a favorite of mine too, I wanted one with pineapple. I could have adapted one of the two mentioned, but hey, I write a food blog – I need new ideas. Always! I hunted on the ‘net and found this one. It makes 2 loaves – albeit kind of shallow loaves, but still 2 loaves. It’s got lots of bananas, and it has an 8-ounce can of canned drained pineapple. And cinnamon. I added a jot of nutmeg and allspice. Just because. Otherwise it’s identical to the recipe I found at Taste of Home. It was very easy to mix up – one bowl for the dry ingredients, and another for the wet ingredients. They’re combined and poured into 2 loaf pans. Baked for an hour and it’s done. No frosting needed.

What’s GOOD: definitely good banana and pineapple flavor. And cloaked in a really moist batter. Use a napkin or a paper towel to eat it because your fingers will be a bit oily. Guess that’s what makes it so good!

What’s NOT: nary a thing – unless it’s waiting for the bananas to get extra ripe.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Moist Pineapple Banana Bread

Recipe By: Adapted from Taste of Home
Serving Size: 32

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces crushed pineapple — drained well
2 cups bananas — ripe, mashed, about 4-5

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and vanilla; add pineapple and bananas. Stir into the dry ingredients just until moistened. Pour into two greased 8-in. x 4-in. loaf pans.
2. Bake at 350° for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Yield: 2 loaves (16 slices each). Cut into relatively narrow slices and devour warm or at room temp. For longer storage, freeze. Bread is very moist (from the ample amount of oil). Serve with a napkin or paper towel as the bread is quite oily/damp. Guess that’s what makes it taste so good!
Per Serving: 192 Calories; 9g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 20mg Cholesterol; 113mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on April 22nd, 2017.

Oh my goodness, is this cake just off the charts. And it has a story (not mine – on food52).

A couple of weeks ago I was reading a post at food52, and this carrot cake story was just so sweet. About Mary Catherine Tee’s grandmother “Mom Mom’s” 3-layer carrot cake. And how the grandchildren made the cake for her in her last days, when she was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, confined to a nursing home. And about the smile it brought to her face. It was such an unusual story, I had to send the post to my friend Linda T (many recipes here on my blog are from her recipe files), who has been making a more traditional 9×13 carrot cake for decades. That recipe is here on my blog too. Hers had been my go-to recipe for as long as I’ve had it; at least 30 years. Until now. Until this cake. neva_tees_carrot_cake_whole

Recently, Linda, my friend Cherrie, another mutual friend Yvette and I met for lunch in Carlsbad. At a very hot new restaurant called Campfire. Quite a place – lots of grilled items, fabulous breads, sandwiches, unusual sauces or spreads on bread, or something different on most everything on the menu. It was close to Yvette’s birthday, and yvettes_birthday_cakebecause Linda and I had talked a lot about this cake, she made it and brought it to the restaurant (they didn’t charge us for the use of extra plates). Carrot cake happens to be Yvette’s husband Joe’s favorite, Cherrie’s husband Bud’s favorite, and was my DH’s favorite as well. Linda let us split up the remaining cake between us, to take home. What a treat. The birthday girl in the photo at right with the cake in the shade in front of her.

What’s different about this cake? It’s lighter in texture – MUCH lighter. Hard to believe since it contains so much shredded carrot, but it IS. It’s a more tender cake – I guess that’s what I mean when I say “lighter.” It still has some cream cheese in the frosting, but it’s not a thick frosting (that part I really liked). It uses pecans – but in the frosting. The ONLY thing I’d try next time, is to add some pineapple into the frosting. Crushed (canned) pineapple that had been squeezed completely dry and squeezed in paper towels too – so it wouldn’t dilute the frosting with any liquid. I haven’t tried this – so I can’t make any promises about it, but I think it would be a lovely enhancement to the cake. At least I’d try it. I’d use an 8-ounce can, drained well, then squeezed dry as mentioned.

What’s GOOD: I think this cake is fantastic. Not that I make 3-layer cakes often – and I didn’t make this one, but since my friend Linda has now made it twice, and was planning to make it again the same week, I’d say it’s been truly tested well. Do read my notes about possibly adding crushed pineapple to the frosting. Linda did not frost the outside of the cake – it was supposed to be enough, but Linda just thought it would be better to leave the frosting off the sides. I’d definitely do it that way again too.

What’s NOT: only that you have to make/bake 3 layers. Not hard, really. A bit time consuming. But, you’ll hear raves. I just know it.

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Neva Tee’s Carrot Cake

Recipe By: Food52: Neva Tee (from her granddaughter, Mary Catherine Tee)
Serving Size: 12

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil — (such as Crisco)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla — divided
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 stick butter — room temperature
1 cup chopped pecans
8 ounces cream cheese — room temperature
8 ounces canned pineapple, drained (optional) to add to frosting; see NOTE in directions

NOTE: Although not in the original recipe, I would try adding 8 ounces of canned crushed pineapple to the frosting. BUT, thoroughly drain the pineapple and blot dry with paper towels before adding to the frosting mixture.
1. Line 3 round 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper and heat the oven to 350*F.
2. Add sugar, oil, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to a bowl. Beat well.
3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add slowly to the sugar/oil mixture, stirring to incorporate. Fold in the carrots. Divide among 3 prepared pans.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Once cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
5. For the filling/frosting, use an electric mixer to mix the confectioners’ sugar, butter, remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla, and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. Turn off mixer. Add chopped pecans and mix on medium-low speed until nuts are incorporated. Refrain from eating all of it with a spoon. Spread between layers (may do sides too, though it will be a thin layer) and top of cake once the cake has cooled completely.
NOTES: My friend Linda doesn’t own 8-inch cake pans; only 9″ ones. She made this in the 9″ pans and it turned out just fine – probably a few minutes less baking time.
Per Serving: 740 Calories; 41g Fat (49.0% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 90g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 112mg Cholesterol; 538mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on February 26th, 2017.

laurie_colwins_damp_gingerbread

If you’re a younger person, you’ve likely never heard of Laurie Colwin. She penned a column in Gourmet Magazine for many years. She died way too young.

How sad I was when I heard that Laurie Colwin had died in 1992. I loved her columns – irreverent for sure. She never considered herself a gourmand. She was just a home cook. She debunked theories and philosophies of cooking. She shared stories about how she cooked and entertained in her miniscule NYC apartment when she was a single person. I LOL’d when I read that story. I wrote up a post in 2013 about damp_gingerbread_wedgeLaurie Colwin, and part of that essay is in that post. And I’d always planned to make a lot of her recipes. She eventually married and had children, and continued to write her irreverent prose about the joys and dilemmas of day to day cooking. She wrote at least 2 memoir-style cookbooks, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (Vintage Contemporaries); and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen. I bought them years ago and savored every word in both books, certainly saying I’d make some of the recipes. But I never did.

Then recently I read a blog piece somewhere that mentioned this recipe, the Damp Gingerbread. One of her recipes I’d always intended to try. So, recently, when we had a dark, damp day, I dug into my baking stuff and made her cake.

This cake isn’t the heavy, dark kind of cake many people prefer, or think of when you think “gingerbread.” Most of those recipes contain molasses. This one doesn’t. This one uses Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Now, for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a type of syrup (Golden Syrup is made from sugar cane or sugar beet when processing for sugar. It is a form of invert sugar syrup. . . this from my friend Toni, in England) produced in England and available in some (rare) stores here in the U.S. I used to be able to find it sometimes, but since I had none on my shelves, I went to Amazon. The link above goes to a single can (free shipping even if you don’t have amazon Prime) that’s just the right size for this recipe. I had to wait for its delivery before I could bake the cake. Could you use regular corn syrup? I suppose, but Lyle’s has a lightly golden color and I think it’s made differently than our American corn syrup.

damp_gingerbread_slice_outThis gingerbread doesn’t contain the load of spices more common to gingerbread, either. Just ground ginger, ground cloves and ground cinnamon. I think Laurie Colwin liked a more subtle gingerbread. And then, what about the DAMP designation? Well, the recipe indicates you bake it JUST until the cake has pulled away from the sides and is still almost damp in the middle. I probably overbaked mine as it wasn’t exactly damp, in my opinion. Was it moist? Yes. Delicious? Yes. It would be nice to make two types and try them side by side. This one is more delicate. You don’t even need a mixer – I did it all in one bowl and poured it into my 9” round, high-sided cake pan (it would likely overflow a regular height cake pan). An hour later it was done.

What’s GOOD: it’s a lovely, lighter than usual gingerbread. Subtle spices, and delicious with a big, fat dollop of whipped cream on it. Easy to make – a one-bowl thing without using a mixer.

What’s NOT: if you prefer the dark heavy type of gingerbread, this one won’t float your boat. I liked it. Maybe next time I’ll try another recipe for the darker type. I think I like both, actually.

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

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Laurie Colwin’s Damp Gingerbread

Recipe By: Laurie Colwin (deceased), writer, cookbook author
Serving Size: 10

9 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups Lyle’s Golden Syrup — (12 ounces)
2 cups all-purpose flour — plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup milk

1. Heat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9-inch round pan (2 inches deep) and line the bottom with parchment paper. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the Lyle’s Golden Syrup.
2. Into a bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking soda, ground ginger, ground cloves, and cinnamon. Pour the syrup and melted butter onto the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the egg and the milk and beat well. The batter will be very liquidy, not to worry.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 to 55 minutes. The middle should be just set, with the edge pulling away from the pan, and a tester will bring out a few crumbs. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out. (Serve with sweetened whipped cream.)
Per Serving: 322 Calories; 12g Fat (33.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 49g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 52mg Cholesterol; 452mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on February 21st, 2017.

choc_truffle_cake

Oh my! This cake/torte is just off the charts. Ample chocolate for the chocoholic; plenty of substance with the “cake” part – almost like fudge but not quite, and crunch from the walnuts. All gently lapped with whipped cream on top.

If you’re a chocolate person, you’ll want to make this truffle cake. The ganache (the top layer) is rich with just bittersweet chocolate and cream. Oh so rich. Oh so lovely and delicious. The crust has unsweetened cocoa in it, plus some walnuts and stuff to hold it together. The filling has copious amounts of walnuts and honey plus butter, brown sugar and cream. Tarla put this together in no time – you might think it would be time-consuming with all the layers, but really not. Your guests will be wowed.

The cake/torte is made in a 9-inch springform pan lined with parchment. The crust is all composed of standard ingredients and you pack that into the bottom. The base is baked until firm and is allowed to cool on a rack. Then you put together the filling with more standard kind of ingredients plus the walnuts. That layer is cooked on the stove – kind of like a candy, to 280°F and it’s poured on top of the crust/base. The walnuts are sprinkled on top once that filling layer has cooled. You kind of press them into the filling. The ganache is just bittersweet chocolate and cream and once smooth and melted, you cool it to room temp and at that point it will hold into soft peaks – then  you spread it on top of the filling (and walnuts nestled into the filling). That’s then chilled for several hours – at least 4 – and do allow it to sit at room temp for about 30 minutes before you try to cut and serve it – WITH whipped cream. It might seem like overkill, but trust me, it isn’t. You’ll want that whipped cream to counter the richness of the truffle cake. Thank you, Tarla, for another great chocolate recipe (cooking class).

What’s GOOD: the flavor – the chocolate – oh yes, SO delicious. It serves 10 if you make the slices fairly narrow. It’s very rich, so you don’t need a big piece. It’s a chocoholic’s dream come true. Make it, okay?

What’s NOT: nothing, unless you don’t like chocolate!

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

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Chocolate Walnut Truffle Cake

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 12

BASE:
1/2 stick unsalted butter — (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup walnuts — finely chopped
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
FILLING:
1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/2 stick unsalted butter — (1/4 cup)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
GANACHE:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 pound bittersweet chocolate — (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate), use good quality

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and butter a 9-inch springform pan.
2. Make base: In a small saucepan melt butter and stir in cocoa powder. Remove pan from heat and add brown sugar, stirring until dissolved. Stir in flour, walnuts, egg, and vanilla and spread batter evenly in springform pan. Bake base in middle of oven 10 minutes, or just until firm, and transfer to a rack to cool.
3. Make filling: Arrange walnuts in one layer on top of base. In a small heavy saucepan combine butter, brown sugar, and honey and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes, or until a candy thermometer registers 280°F. Remove pan from heat and add cream, vanilla, and lemon juice, stirring until smooth. Cool mixture to room temperature and pour over walnuts, spreading evenly.
4. Make ganache: In a saucepan bring cream just to a boil. Finely chop chocolate. Put chocolate in a metal bowl and pour hot cream over it, stirring until smooth. Cool ganache to room temperature and beat with an electric mixer until it just holds soft peaks (do not overbeat or it will become grainy).
5. Spread ganache evenly over filling. Chill cake, covered, at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.
6. Run a thin knife around edge of cake and remove side of pan. With a large spatula transfer cake to a plate and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 634 Calories; 53g Fat (68.4% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 79mg Cholesterol; 33mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on February 11th, 2017.

apple_champ_custard_torte_whole

What this is, is unusual. Different. Not a typical torte. Not a typical custard. It’s kind of like an apple pie, but with a custard/champagne filling and a load of whipped cream on top, sprinkled liberally with unsweetened cocoa. It’s SO hard to describe. Was it good? Yes, indeed.

When Chef Caroline prepared this at a December cooking class, I said, wow, this looks like way too much work. And yes, it does require several steps of preparation. But, none of the steps are all that difficult. I suppose, the question always is, was it worth the effort? The finished piece of torte was excellent. I wrote “fabulous” on my recipe notes. Caroline had a long, rambling story to tell about acquiring the recipe from her friend Doris who is of German descent. And this friend, although a really good cook, doesn’t exactly cook with a recipe, so Caroline had to visit her house and watch, scribble, help and use more guesswork to write down the ingredients and quantities. She assured us it would be worth waiting for, and worth the effort to make. Tasting the finished product, I agree.

It starts with a 10-inch springform pan that’s lined with parchment and buttered (important). A pastry dough is made, but it’s not your standard pastry, either. It has baking powder in it and an egg – but it’s not a biscuit dough. Not a pie dough – maybe more like a thin cake, yet it’s NOT a cake batter, either. So hard to describe. If any of you are overly annoyed with my inability to describe this, well, you might have to make it and tell me. I haven’t tried to analyze the chemistry of the pastry to figure out what it really is. Caroline rolled out half the dough for the bottom of the springform, then rolled out rectangles to make the sides, then pressed the edges together in the pan. Clever, that girl! She thought Doris had difficulty with the dough too, so her solution was to do it in two parts. Then you slice Gala apples and place them on top of the dough.

apple_champ_custard_torte_slice

Picture at left is a piece of the torte, and the whipped cream topping slid right off the side. But at least you can see the consistency of the pudding part – read the next paragraph about that – it’s different!

In the meantime, you prepare the “custard,” which isn’t exactly a custard by normal standards – it’s a kind of a pudding made with Dr. Oetker’s packaged vanilla pudding mix (Cost Plus has it and I found it in a 3-pack at Amazon), but instead of mixing it with milk, it’s made with Prosecco. Yes, Dr. Oetker Original Pudding Mix, Vanilla - 3 pcs.Prosecco. Or champagne. Or even sparkling cider would likely work (use a bit less sugar). So it’s a clear-looking (sort of) pudding – almost like a gelatin pudding, but it’s vanilla flavored, of course. See, I told you this dessert was unusual. Once it’s made, you pour it on top of the apples and into the oven the torte goes for about an hour. The oven is turned off and you leave it sit in the oven for 10 minutes, then you remove it to cool completely on a wire rack.

At this point you refrigerate it overnight. When ready to serve, whip up the heavy cream with a tablespoon of “vanilla sugar,” from a package you can find at Cost Plus. It’s also a Dr. Oetker product – available in multi-packs at Amazon. Spread that all over the top of the torte, then sprinkle unsweetened cocoa through a sieve (so it will distribute evenly) on top. You can also top with chocolate shavings if desired – or both. You don’t have to buy vanilla sugar to make this part – just add sugar and some vanilla instead.

What’s GOOD: although this might look like an extra-rich, heavy dessert, it isn’t. Making the pudding with Prosecco provides a light feeling to the torte. The pastry isn’t all that rich – the apples are good for us – and the only wicked part is the whipped cream on top. If you decide to make this, you’ll be glad you did. It looks gorgeous. What’s also GOOD is that it serves 12. Not very many desserts serve that many people. If you prefer, you can halve the recipe (to serve 6) and make it in a 7” springform pan.

What’s NOT: well, perhaps all the steps, but none are all that difficult. The pudding part is easy, actually with the packaged mix to help. Now I just need an excuse to make it myself – and have  12 people over in order to serve it all!

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

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Apple & Champagne Custard Torte

Recipe By: Caroline Cayaumazou, chef, Antoine’s, San Clemente
Serving Size: 12

PASTRY:
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1 large egg — beaten (or up to 1 1/2 eggs)
APPLE FILLING:
2 1/2 pounds apples — Gala (or Fuji), peeled, thinly sliced
A bowl of lightly salted water
CUSTARD PUDDING:
74 grams Dr. Oetker vanilla pudding mix — (instant type – 2 packages)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 bottle Prosecco — or Champagne, or white sparkling wine
TOPPING:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar — (Dr. Oetker, a packet)
1 tablespoon cocoa — unsweetened

NOTES: Dr. Oetker products can be found online at Amazon (free shipping if you buy the multi-packs) and most Cost Plus stores (imported from Germany). The prepared pudding in this torte is not a true “cream” looking pudding – it’s made with sparkling wine, so it’s much less rich – but no less good!
1. PASTRY: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper and butter the sides only. In a medium sized bowl combine the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Make a well in the center and add the melted butter and egg. Mix with a fork until the dough comes together and then knead with your hands a few times to make the dough smooth.
2. Roll HALF the dough on a lightly floured tea towel to make a circle – slightly larger than 10″ to fit in the springform pan. With remaining HALF of the dough, roll into strips about 3″ wide and 6-7 inches long. You will have 2-3 pieces – enough to press onto the sides of the springform pan, and then press all the edges together so you have an even, filled-in pastry shell.
3. APPLES: As you prep the apples, place them in the bowl of lightly salted water. Remove apple slices to paper towels and blot dry. Place all the apple slices on top of the pastry.
4. PUDDING: In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and vanilla pudding packets with about 1/2-cup of Prosecco. Then, in a medium saucepan, add the remaining Prosecco and bring to a boil. Whisk constantly as you add it to the pudding mixture and bring it to a boil again. Cook for 30 seconds and remove from heat. Pour evenly over the apples in the pastry. Bake the torte for 60 minutes. Turn off the oven heat and allow torte to sit in the oven for an additional 10 minutes, then remove to a rack and cool completely. Refrigerate the torte overnight, if possible.
5. TOPPING: Whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks and add the packaged Vanilla Sugar (or omit and just add your own quantity of sugar and vanilla). Whip until completely mixed in. Spread cream over the top of the torte. Using a sieve, sprinkle unsweetened cocoa powder all over the top of the torte and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Per Serving: 381 Calories; 19g Fat (42.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 77mg Cholesterol; 122mg Sodium.

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