Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rich and Moist Chocolate Cake

Rich and moist chocolate cake (Fondant Au Chocolat)... mmmm! 

It was quite cool over the weekend. You could feel the season changing to fall, and this made me crave a rich chocolate cake. So I made one. I baked it a few minutes too much, but it was still pretty moist and came out good. I also made a rich custard sauce called Creme Anglaise for serving with the cake.

The ingredients for the cake are very simple:  butter, sugar, whole eggs and chocolate, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Note: This is a flourless cake but you may add some flour or cornstarch if you wish.

In a medium-sized bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate with the butter. Remove from heat and set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile beat sugar and eggs in another bowl until thick and foamy, about 3-4 minutes. Fold the chocolate/butter mixture into the sugar/egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a prepared 8-9 inch spring form pan. Bake the cake about 22-25 minutes in preheated oven at 350 F until a toothpick inserted into the center still comes out slightly wet.

When the cake is done, cool it off in the pan at least 30 minutes on a wire rack. Remove the cake from the pan and serve with creme anglaise, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Or cool the cake completely on the rack  about 2 hours if glazing with melted chocolate.

Glazing cake: Pour/spread the fondant (5-ouncs dark chocolate with 3-ounce unsalted butter) over the cake evenly using an offset spatula. Cool at least 2 hours in refrigerator.

I used a 9-inch spring form pan. You should get about 12 slices.

Fondant au Chocolat
Preparation: 30 min
Baking: about 30 min

One 9-inch spring form pan, buttered

7 oz. (200g) bittersweet chocolate (52-60% de cacao), chopped
7 oz. (200g) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
2 oz. (50g) sugar, granulated
3 oz. (70G) powder sugar
5 large eggs
A pinch of salt
1.5 oz. (40g) cornstarch (optional)

For Glazing: 
5 oz. (150g) bittersweet chocolate (52-60% de cacao), chopped
3 oz. (75g) unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Preheat the oven to 350°F
In a medium-sized heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and set aside.

In another medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs, granulated sugar, powder sugar, and salt until thick and form (4-5 minutes), then fold the cornstarch if using in the egg mixture.

Fold the chocolate into the egg mixture one third at time. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake it about 22-25 minute in the center of the oven. It is OK that the center is still wet if you insert a tooth pick, and it shows wet.

Cool off the pan 30 minutes on a wire rack. Remove the cake from the pan. Rest the cake on wire rack until cool completely about 2-3 hours.

In a small bowl melt the chocolate, butter and 2 tablespoon of water. Remove from heat and set aside to cool a little. Pour the glaze (fondant) over the cake evenly with using an offset spatula. Cool the cake at least 2 hours in refrigerator.

325° F (160° C)
350° F (175° C)
375° F (190° C)
400° F (205° C)
425° F (220° C)
450° F (235° C)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beef Carpaccio

Beef Carpaccio 

It was so hot and dry the last few days in the Bay Area that I just didn't have much appetite, except for cold drinks. For yesterday's dinner, I had organic, hand-made chilled tofu with grated ginger, chopped scallion and dried shaved bonito served with soy/lemon juice. It was a perfect appetizer/dinner. 

Today I made Filet Mignon Carpaccio, which is really easy. I hand sliced the meat (make sure it is good quality), then placed the slices between two pieces of parchment paper. Then I pounded them until paper thin, arranged them on a platter, brushed them with good extra virgin olive oil, and ground some  black pepper on top. For a sauce, I mixed half mayonnaise, half Dijon mustard, and added a little creme fraiche. Can't forget a garnish:  chopped Italian parsley and grated Parmesan cheese "Grana" plus some lemon juice. Great appetizer for a warm evening! I ate the Carpaccio with toasted Ciabatta bread. Oh yes... I had a glass of Pinot Grigio.

Friday, September 16, 2011

French Cheeses

Cheese is probably the most perfect companion food for tasting wine, and I can't think of a better beverage than wine (mostly red, but also white) for tasting quality cheeses. Here are two favorite cheeses currently available at Trader Joe's. (I love shopping at TJ's. They have a good selection of both imported and domestic cheeses with very reasonable prices, and I often find something new.) 

First is a very typical cow's milk soft cheese from the Rhone-Alpes, called Le Petit Creme (left in the picture above). "It is a rich, smooth and creamy cheese that melts in your mouth," according to the label, but it's really true. However, it is best to leave it out a day or two at room temperature. This improves taste, texture, flavor and smell... until it says "Cheese!" 

Next (right in the picture above), is a semi-firm cheese made from cow's raw milk (not pasteurized) called Raclette. It's from the mountainous Savoy region of France near the Swiss border. This cheese is great when melted on rustic bread or over baked potatoes. Of course, you can just slice and eat without heating. It has nice texture and a slightly nutty flavor. However, the one I got recently at TJ's was not so great. In fact this one comes from Auvergne mountains (center of France). It was a little too salty and did not have good Raclette flavor and sweet/ fruity aroma when heated.

Le Petit Creme


 This picture shows how le Petit Creme will look when left for a couple days at room temperature as mentioned above. The irresistible creamy cheese comes out like molten chocolate cake as soon as you slice it.

France makes many wonderful cow's milk soft cheeses like this, such as Brie and Camembert....
French cheeses with rustic bread and a glass of wine is one of my favorite quick dinners. Enjoy!

For a good overview of international cheeses, with notes on tasting, storage, nutrition, creating cheese plates and more, see the Cheese Lovers' Manual.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pizza with Roasted Tomatoes

My roommate got some tasty Roma tomatoes from the Menlo Park farmer's market and asked me how to make a roasted tomato pizza. So I spent a couple of hours showing him how to do it. It came out very good. Pizza seems easy to make and does not cost much, but you need to make an effort (labor of love) in order to get a really delicious reward -- the discovery that homemade is the best!
First you need to make some pizza dough... about one pound or so. You can use basic bread dough and mix in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. It's easy to find good recipes on the Internet, or you can just buy dough from a store (Trader Joe's sells one pound of fresh pizza dough for a little more than a dollar). 
Check the basic pizza dough recipe and baking tips at the end of this post.

Here is how to make roasted tomatoes and assemble and bake the pizza:

Slice about 4 pounds of ripe Roma tomatoes in half, then toss with 5-6 sliced fresh cloves of garlic, some sprigs of fresh oregano and thyme, olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Spread tomatoes, garlic and herbs on a baking/sheet pan and bake about 45-55 minutes in preheated oven (350 F) or until the juice is pretty much evaporated.


This is how it will look after roasting for 50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Sprinkle rice flour lightly on a cookie sheet pan. Roll out the dough and place it on the pan (a cookie sheet pan is the simplest/easiest way to do it - you don't need a pizza stone). Lightly brush olive oil on the dough, then spread the roasted tomatoes on the top, then cheese whatever you like (sliced fresh mozzarella, shredded mozzarella, provolone, Gruyere, etc.). Finally, sprinkle some sliced fresh basil leaves if available. Place the pan on the lowest shelf in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.

Here is my roasted tomato pizza with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil.
This is traditional "Pizza Margherita" that I learned in Naples, Italy.
You may serve it with some grated or shaved Parmesan cheese, but they don't in Naples. They drizzle olive oil over on the pizza.

Pizza Dough-Pasta per Pizza

Preheat the oven 450º F
Makes one14-inch Pizza Crusts
Preparation time including rising: 2 hours, active time: about 20-30 minutes

1 tablespoon (1/4-once envelope) active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
3/4 cup warm water (about 110° F)
2 – 2 ¼ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Extra flour (rice flour or semolina) for kneading and dusting

1.      In a small bowl, combine the warm water and sugar, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast into the water and let stand for about 5 minuets, until foamy.

2.      In a food processor, combine 2 cups of flour and salt. With the motor running, pour the proofed yeast mixture and the olive oil down through the feed tube. Process the mixture until it forms a ball. Adding more flour, a little at a time. If the dough is too wet, process for 20 seconds to knead the dough.

3.      Form the dough into a ball and place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn it to coat with oil. Covered with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place, for 1-to 1½ hours, or until doubled in size.

Or put the dough in the refrigerator and let it rise overnight. Next day, let it stand at room temperature for 2 hours before proceeding with the recipe.

4.      To shape the pizza, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Gently form the dough shape you like about ¼ inch thick and transfer to the baking sheet. Scatter the sauce and mozzarella cheese over the pizza, leaving a ½ -inch rim, and layer the topping as you wish.

5.      To bake the pizza, place the baking sheet with a pizza on the lower oven rack and bake for 10-12 minuets. If you have heated baking stone, then, finishing baking the pizza by sliding it off the pan directly onto the baking stone (be careful, not touching hot stone or the oven!). Bake the pizza on the stone for 4-5 minutes to crisp the bottom until well browned.