Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Quatre-quarts Cake – French Pound Cake with Chocolate

Pound Cake has become an American classic, although it is originally from Europe. It’s the first dessert I was served when I was invited to a home dinner here in America. I still remember it was served with vanilla ice cream, then whipped cream and strawberries. I thought dessert is most important in America. Since then I have eaten it countless times and in countless variations. It can be jazzed up with dried fruits, nuts, blueberries, coffee, cocoa... just about anything.
I have made pound cake both at home and for work. I often mix a small mashed/chopped banana into the batter, which makes the cake moist (but you’ll need to bake it about 10 minutes longer) and creates a great aroma in the kitchen.  However, people still ask me why it’s called “pound cake” and what is the recipe.  I found out a long time ago, because, well, you know, I am a cook... I needed to know.
Quatre-quarts means  “four fourths” or “four quarters” in French. It has four main ingredients – egg, butter, sugar and flour – in about equal amounts, originally a pound each (which makes a very large cake). That is why it’s called pound cake, which makes sense!  Using this recipe, the cake comes out soft and light, because powdered sugar is used instead of granulated sugar. It is simple but delicious, and is the perfect cake for spring!

Quatre-quarts au beurre salé et au chocolat – Pound cake with salted butter and 
chocolate chips

Recipe adapted from Cuisine et Vins, Février – Mars 2011, N°138

Makes 8-10 servings

1 loaf pan (1 ¼ quarts-5 cups)

4 oz (110 g) dark chocolate chips
4 large eggs
7 oz (200 g) salted butter at room temperature, preferably French style + 1 tablespoon for the pan
7 oz (200 g) powder/confectioners’ sugar
7 oz (200 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

1.       Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease the pan with 1 tablespoon butter and dust with flour. In a medium-size mixing bowl or stand mixer at medium speed, cream the butter  then slowly add the powdered sugar until completely incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time until well mixed.

2.       In a small bowl, mix the flour and the baking powder then sift them together into another bowl or onto baking/wax paper. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the batter,  1/3 of the flour mixture at a time until just combined; do not over mix.

3.       Pour  the batter into the pan. Then spread the chocolate chips over the batter. Using your wet fingers or rubber spatula or spoon,  push the chocolate chips into the batter. Bake in center of the oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

4.       Cool/rest the pan on a wire rack at least 10-15 minutes before unmolding the cake. This cake is best served warm. Top with whipped heavy cream and fresh berries if you wish.

For more fun chocolate information (and mouth-watering photos), go to

Saturday, April 19, 2014

White Chocolate Custard – Use up those egg yolks!

Well, I assume that you have read my last post “Simple Chocolate Mousse“ ...maybe have already tried making it, and are wondering about those three leftover  fresh egg yolks. Hopefully you did not throw them away.  Many people are concerned about egg yolks because of the  fat and cholesterol.  Egg white is a good protein source, but it is the yolk that makes everything tasty!  In addition, the fat from the yolk is not very high (4.5 g per large yolk), and the cholesterol from food is not really a big issue (it isn’t the same as blood cholesterol ... our body makes that in response to too much saturated fat – not dietary cholesterol – plus  other health factors). Crème brûlee, crème caramel, crème anglaise, crème pâtissière (pastry cream), and even pasta alla carbonara all require egg yolks. You cannot make them without yolk.

Anyway, this is another “chocolate” dessert that I guarantee you will adore.
Note that white chocolate is not technically chocolate (it contains no cocoa solids, from which chocolate’s color and most of the flavor come). It is made from cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and usually vanilla. It is important that melt white chocolate always very slowly over low heat to keep it from scorching and clumping.

White Chocolate Custard with Fresh Berries

Makes 4 servings

4 six-once ramekins or custard cups (about 3.5-inch diameter and 2-inch high)

1  cup (250 ml) milk or half-and-half
4 oz (115g) white chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons Kirsh (clear cherry brandy) or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries or raspberries for topping

1.       Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the half-and-half then add white chocolate and sugar. Stir gently until the white chocolate is melted, then remove from heat.

2.       In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually add the warm half-and-half mixture, stirring gently with a whisk. Add the Kirsh or the vanilla extract.

3.       Place the 4 ramekins in a baking pan that is at least 2 inches high, and pour the custard into the ramekins. Add warm water to the baking pan so that the water reaches halfway up the outside of the ramekins (creating a water bath). Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until the custard jiggles slightly when nudged.

4.       Remove the custards from the water bath and cool on a wire rack.
Serve custards in the ramekins at room temperature or chilled, topped with fresh berries.

For more fun chocolate information (and mouth-watering photos), go to

This is my current photo at San Francisco International  Chocolate Salon in March 2014. I was invited as a judge. I had a lot of fun.

Friday, April 11, 2014

SIMPLE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE - light for spring

The beauty of spring has come again to the Bay Area. We have been having a record-breaking drought in California since last year, with an unheard-of dry, brown winter. Finally, a few days of rain over the past two weeks brought us the bright green and other signs of spring.  So many different birds are coming to my small backyard, and the squirrels are chasing each other with lightning speed, almost flying from lawn to tree branches and to the garden fence in seconds. It makes my neighbor’s cat speechless. I guess I am not the only one feeling recharged.

I have been gone many months from this blog, and I missed writing the posts, but I was so busy working for a new, challenging job I started last summer. I just did not have any free time until recently.  Anyway, I am back, just like this nice spring came back to my garden. The past couple of months I have thought of quite a few topics for this blog – about wine,  chocolate, seasonal tarts, seafood, local fruits and vegetables, and simple light food for spring.  Here is my first one... for the chocolate lovers.

The recipe and anecdote come from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé , a world-famous French pastry chef, with the great dessert writer Dorie Greenspan. It is very important when making this mousse to use  good quality chocolate and very fresh eggs.

Mousse as it’s meant to be: Whisper-light in texture, exclamatory in taste. The main ingredients are bittersweet chocolate, lightened by whipped egg whites, enriched by an egg yolk, and sweetened by just the tiniest bit of sugar. Milk is the unexpected but just-right ingredient in this recipe. Because it is lighter than cream, it brings smoothness to the mousse without adding richness or masking the flavor of the chocolate.

I think of this mousse as a base recipe, one I can play around with and change at whim. Often I’ll add another flavor just before serving, topping the mousse with chocolate shavings, Caramelized Rice Krispies, thin slices of banana – raw or sautéed, whole raspberries or raspberry coulis, toasted nuts, or chopped fresh mint. Sometimes I’ll add a different flavor to the mousse while I’m making it, infusing the milk with grated orange zest, a spoonful of instant coffee, a little ground cinnamon, or a pinch of cardamom. PH


Makes 4-5 servings.
6 oz (170 g) bittersweet chocolate (52% or more cacao), finely chopped
1/3 cup (30 g) whole milk
1 large very fresh egg yolk
4 large very fresh egg whites
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  1. Place the chocolate in a medium-size mixing bowl. Bring the milk to a boil, then pour it over the chocolate. Using a small whisk, gently blend the hot milk into the chocolate. Add the egg yolk and whisk it into the chocolate, again working gently; stop when the yolk is incorporated.
  2.  In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed just until they hold soft peaks. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the sugar. Continue to beat the whites until they are firm but still glossy. Scoop one-third of the whites out onto the chocolate mixture. Working with a whisk, beat the whites into the chocolate to lighten the mixture. Now, with either the whisk or a large flexible rubber spatula, delicately but thoroughly fold the rest of the beaten whites into the chocolate.
  3.  Turn the mousse out into a large serving bowl – clear glass is very nice for this dessert – or into individual glass cups, and refrigerate at least 1 hour, preferably 3-4 hours, to set. The mousse can be kept (refrigerated) for a couple days.

Note: I used Guittard’s Semisweet Chocolate Wafers 61% cacao for making the mousse shown in the photos. It worked perfectly and my tasters loved it. I could have used the 72% cacao (Bittersweet), but 61% is best for a wider range of palates. E. Guittard Chocolate is a San Francisco-area company and has been making good quality chocolate since 1868. Their couverture chocolate wafers (these are not chocolate chips) come in a convenient one-pound box. No chopping required -- it's ready to go. These make me want to keep making more chocolate desserts!