Chocolate Pear Cake

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The recipe of this post comes from Emiko Davie’s Florentine cookbook. It is a one of a kind book that beautifully captures the magic of Florence’s markets, trattorias and streets. Emiko’s writing weaves stories of the city’s history and culture with an authentic collection of meticulous regional Italian recipes that are beautifully captured through photography.

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The Torta di Pera e Cioccolato cake particularly caught my attention since I’ve tried combining both of these ingredients in a dessert before and I was not very impressed with the result. So I decided to give it another try – mainly because Emiko’s recipes are meticulous and so reliable!

This is not a flourless cake as it contains almond flour, and it’s not as decadent as the flourless chocolate tahini recipe I posted a few weeks ago, but it does have a melt in your mouth texture that makes it really hard to just eat one slice. Remember, the quality of chocolate matters significantly – the better the chocolate, the better the cake!

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Recipe from Florentine by Emiko Davies

50g granulated sugar
500ml water
2 medium pears, peeled, cored and cut into eighths lengthways
150g dark chocolate
90g unsalted butter at room temperature, cubed
90g caster (superfine) sugar
90g almond meal
3 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon cocoa powder for dusting cake pan
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

1. Combine the granulated sugar with the water in a saucepan and set over medium heat. Add the pear slices and poach for 10-15 minutes, or until tender but not too soft (a knife should easily penetrate the flesh without any resistance). Drain and let the pear cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease a 9″ round springform cake tin and dust with the cocoa powder.
3. Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie. When melted, remove from the heat, add the butter and stir until the butter has melted. Add the caster sugar and almond meal, stirring to combine. When the mixture is cool, add the 3 egg yolks.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks, then gently fold them into the chocolate batter. Pour the chocolate mixture into the cake pan. Arrange the pear pieces on the top of the batter, pushing them slightly in. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let cool completely before unmolding from the pan and dust with icing sugar before serving.

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Coconut Mastic Macaroons

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I tried a variety of coconut macaroon recipes in the last couple of months but none of them made me want to make them again, until I saw this recipe for irresistibly golden coconut macaroons. I was so intrigued but the technique that requires cooking the coconut batter on the stovetop before shaping into balls and baking (that was definitely a first!). It resulted in macaroons that are delicately crunchy on the outside and incredibly moist and chewy on the inside.

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What I love about this recipe is that it’s very adaptable, and you can adjust it based on your favorite tastes. Naturally, I made a couple of tweaks to Claire Ptak’s original recipe and added in freshly ground mastic to the batter. The refreshing smell the mastic paired with coconut is my favorite combination of all time! You can get really creative with this by adding a piece of almond in the center, dipping half of the cookies in dark chocolate, mixing in chopped dried fruits, or just bake them plain!

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Recipe adapted from Violet Bakery Cookbook
Makes 20 tablespoon sized macaroons

4 large egg whites
200g (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 tbsp honey
200g (1+1/3 cups) unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground mastic (about 4 pea sized mastic resins)

1. Preheat the oven to 355°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with two parchment papers (to prevent the bottom of the macaroons from burning).
2. Grind the mastic resins in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle with a pinch of granulated sugar. Measure all the ingredients into a medium heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium low-heat, stirring constantly. As the mixture warms up, reduce the heat to low and stir until the mixture dries out and holds together into a cohesive mass. Let the mixture cool down before proceeding with the next steps (it will be easier to shape the macaroons).
3. Using a tablespoon, scoop individual portions of the mixture on to the lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between each one so they have room to expand.
4. Bake for 16-18 minutes until the macaroons are puffed and golden. Cool completely on the baking sheet before serving or storing. They will keep well for one week in an airtight container, or frozen up to a month.

Flourless Chocolate Tahini Soufflé Cake

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I have a particular weakness for flourless chocolate cakes. All you need to make this incredibly rich dessert is high quality bittersweet chocolate, sugar and eggs – that’s it! It’s simple enough to bake in under an hour yet fancy enough to impress your friends. When done right (I’m talking about whisking the eggs and gently folding in the ingredients), the intense chocolate flavor shines though a lightly textured center with a crackling crisp top and chewy edges.

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Recently, I’ve begun tampering with Claire Ptak’s chocolate sunken soufflé cake and I found that the addition of tahini to the cake batter takes it to a whole other level. The creamy tahini turns the originally dense cake into a silky and velvety consistency that melts in your mouth. Don’t worry about the savory/nutty notes of tahini, they’re very subtle and do not overpower the indulgent chocolate flavor.

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Recipe adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook

Ingredients:
100g bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
100g dark chocolate (85% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter, cut into large cubes
60ml (4 Tbsp) high quality tahini
4 eggs separated, at room temperature
160g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Dutch processed cocoa powder (for dusting on top)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter a 9″ (23cm) springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and stir occasionally. Once they’re melted, remove the pan from the heat but keep the bowl over the pan of water to keep it warm. Stir in the tahini.
3. Measure 75g of sugar in a bowl of a stand mixer, add the egg yolks, and whisk for 4 minutes on medium high speed until the mixture has doubled in volume.
4. Set the bowl of melted chocolate on your work surface and gently fold in the whisked yolks. Do not mix until homogeneous, the mixture should be marbly.
5. Wash the mixer bowl, dry thoroughly and add the rest of the sugar (75g) with the egg whites. Whisk on high speed until medium-soft peaks form (do not over-whip). Then fold the whites into the chocolate until just mixed. Slowly pour the batter into the cake pan.
6. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top of the cake is puffed and just started to crack. Place the cake pan on a wire rack and let it cool for 20 minutes. To serve, remove the sides of the pan and slide the warm cake on a plate. Dust with cocoa powder.

Chocolate Roll with Chestnut Cream and Marrons Glacés

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I named this cake “Chocolate Roll” because first I’m very kind of late to post a Bûche de Noël recipe and second, the cake is so fabulous that there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t make it any time this winter season.

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When I was a kid we always had Chestnut yule logs during the holiday season and it was my favorite thing to eat. I decided to recreate that exact cake for this year’s annual family Christmas Eve dinner. However, I couldn’t find chestnut paste in any local Lebanese market – so I looked up a couple of make-from-scratch recipes and the process turned out to be so much easier than I expected! It’s basically a mix of roasted chestnuts and sugar syrup puréed in a food processor. The most time consuming part is roasting and peeling chestnuts but I didn’t mind it because the taste is absolutely divine. I went with Yossy Arefi’s flourless chocolate cake recipe that I found on Food52 and filled it with the homemade chestnut cream and chopped marrons glacés. The last step is to cover it with rich dark chocolate ganache and refrigerate it for a couple of hours before serving.

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I’ve baked this cake three times in the last two weeks. The combination of the airy bittersweet cake, cold sweet chestnut cream, and unexpected marrons glacés pieces got me completely hooked. It also looks so elegant when sprinkled with powdered sugar and decorated with some leaves.

Chestnut Paste is incredibly rich and delicious when made from scratch and it can be used in countless ways from pastry filling to mousse and ice cream. Now that I’m done writing this long post, I’m going to have another slice of cake with a shot of espresso.

Enjoy!

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Ingredients and Directions:

Roasting and Peeling Chestnuts (for this recipe you’ll need 200g peeled and roasted high quality chestnuts, approximately 20 whole chestnuts.)

1. Preheat your oven to 425° F (220°C). Carefully make a long slice across the rounded top of the chestnuts with a sharp serrated bread knife. Be sure to cut through the shell only.
2. Place cut chestnuts in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer.
3. Once the water begins to simmer, remove the chestnuts from the water using a slotted spoon or a strainer and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
4. Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the shells begin to peel back where you cut into them.
5. Remove sheet from the oven, place roasted chestnuts in a bowl and cover with a towel for 15 minutes to allow them to steam. Then proceed to peeling them.


Chestnut Cream Filling
• 200g peeled, roasted chestnuts
• 90ml (1/3 cup) milk
• 68g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
• 80ml (1/3 cup) water
• 2 tablespoons Brandy
• 1 Vanilla Bean
• 120ml (1/2 cup) cold heavy cream, whipped to firm peaks
• 3 whole Marrons Glacés cut into small pieces

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer chestnuts with milk until soft about 10 minutes.
2. To make the sugar syrup, combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer until the sugar dissolves.
3. Drain chestnuts and puree in a food processor with the sugar syrup until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and chill in the refrigerator until cool, 30 minutes.
4. Fold in the rum, de-seeded vanilla pod, and whipped cream.


Flourless Chocolate Cake
• 6 egg yolks
• 150g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 40g (1/2 cup) cocoa powder, sifted
• 5 egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 375° F (180°C) and line a 9″x13″ (25 x 35 cm) jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Grease the paper.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar on high until the mixture is pale and very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the salt and vanilla then the sifted cocoa powder.
3. Wash and dry the bowl and whisk, then beat the egg whites on medium high until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add the rest of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
4. Stir 1/4 of the egg white mixture into the egg yolks to lighten everything up. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared jelly roll pan and bake until the cake springs back and is dry to the touch, about 12 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes (the cake will deflate).
6. Turn it out onto a clean kitchen cloth that has been dusted with cocoa powder. Using the edge of the towel, gently roll the cake into a long cylinder. Let the cake cool completely in the towel while you prepare the ganache.

Dark Chocolate Ganache
• 170g (6 oz) dark chocolate, finely chopped
• 180ml (3/4 cup) heavy cream

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream to a bare simmer, then pour it over the chocolate. Stir until smooth and let sit at room temperature until it cools to a spreadable consistency.

Putting it all together
1. Gently unroll the wrapped cake.
2. Spread the chestnut cream over the top and dot with marrons glacés.
3. Using the towel, roll the cake back into a tight cylinder and transfer to a large plate.
3. Spread the cooled ganache over the cake.
4. Drag your spatula or knife over the surface to give it a “barky” look.
5. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Finish by decorating the plate with a generous dusting of powdered sugar.

Chocolate Fudge Brownies

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Today’s recipe is slightly adapted from Flourless: Recipes for Naturally Gluten-Free Desserts. I stumbled upon this book while shopping at Anthropologie and I completely loved the idea of baking desserts that rely on simple ingredients, natural sweeteners, and bold flavors – minus the flour. Oh, and the food photography is absolutely gorgeous.

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Slightly underbaked, these chocolate brownies really melt in your mouth as soon as you take a bite. I threw in a teaspoon of orange zest to the batter, because who doesn’t love that flavor combination? It’s my absolute favorite.

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It’s too tempting to have them around the house, so I whipped up a few batches for two dinner parties last week to avoid eating the whole thing by myself. I also look for any excuse to bake.


Ingredients:
(Recipe adapted from Flouless) – Makes about 16 brownie squares

5.3 oz (150g) high quality dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s organic Dark 70%)
½ cup (155g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200g) packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (50g) Dutch process cocoa (such as Droste) + more for sifting
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp orange zest (optional)

Directions:
1. Heat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and line an 8″ x 8″ (20 cm x 20 cm) square pan with parchment paper.
2. In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the dark chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth and shiny.
3. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl.
4. Add the brown sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, and orange zest. Stir well to combine.
5. Spread the batter in the pan, smoothing the top with a spatula.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, until the brownies are dry on top. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 1 hour.
7. Gently lift the parchment paper out of the pan after cooling to remove the brownies then refrigerate for another hour.
8. Remove from the fridge and cut into 16 squares using a serrated knife.
9. Dust with cocoa powder and serve at room temperature.

Flourless Butternut Squash Loaf

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I roll out of bed each day thinking about food. I love starting my day with cooked cinnamon banana steel cut oatmeal, boiled egg on avocado toast, any of Nature Path’s gluten free cereal with Califia almond milk, and of course organic decaffeinated green tea. Ever since I started eating and living a healthier lifestyle, I’ve been interested in incorporating what I learn about “green food” in baking: such as looking for recipes that are naturally sweetened, gluten free, and focused on vegetables or fruits as main ingredients instead of butter, sugar, and dairy.

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People always ask me if I’m vegan or on a constant “diet” but the truth is I don’t follow a specific lifestyle because I love eating healthy whole foods and enjoy everything in moderation. Nothing gets me more excited than plant-based recipes like wholesome salads made with seasonal ingredients, fish or lean meats, beans, and nuts. Eating this way gives me a better body image and makes me feel great inside out. Don’t get me wrong, I still love eating cakes, cookies, and ice cream in small quantities but I’m more mindful about the quality of food that I put in my body everyday.

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This butternut squash loaf is a new favorite and totally guilt-less. It’s made with pureed squash, honey, ground almonds, oat flour, eggs, and cinnamon– basically everything that’s good for you! I love eating a slice in the morning or as an afternoon snack with a tiny sliver of butter or jam.

Ingredients:
120g (1 cup) ground almonds (grind in food processor until a meal forms)
60g (2/3 cups) oat flour (you can also grind rolled oats in a food processor)
113g (1/3 cup) honey
180g (2/3 cup) puréed butternut squash*
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
Extra rolled oats/chopped walnuts/sliced almonds/pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

*Can be replaced with sweet potatoes

Directions:

For the butternut squash purée: (can be made 5 days in advance)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Cut a medium squash in half and remove the seeds.
2. Place the squash facing up on a lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes until the flesh is fork-tender.
3. Take out of the oven and let it cool down for 15 minutes.
3. Scoop out the flesh and place in a food processor, then purée until smooth.

For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and grease a 3.5×7.5 in (9×19 cm) loaf pan with vegetable oil and line with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together until homogeneous.
3. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and add your preferred garnish.
4. Bake for 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Flourless Almond Ricotta Lemon Cake

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When I wrote this post yesterday afternoon I was listening to some classical Arabic songs by Fairuz and Abdel Halim Hafez (my best friend Wihane can back me up on this because she called me and noticed the background music). I remember my childhood days when I used to beg my mom to turn off “that boring music” but I take that back. As a Lebanese expat, I sometimes feel out of place in NYC and the American culture in general so I guess that’s what drove me listen to music that is familiar and that is grounded in middle eastern culture. I decided to forget all preconceptions I had about classic Arabic music and just focus on the rhythms and meaningful lyrics. Abdel Halim Hafez’s songs in particular are incredibly rich and they go on for up to an hour! Can you believe that? It’s also quite interesting how different melodies are repeated throughout the same song, rendering distinctive characters each time yet tying the whole song together. Is that an expat thing, reminiscing on old Arabic music and the good old days?

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Anyway! Back to this lovely Almond Ricotta Lemon cake: it is undoubtedly my favorite recipe this winter season. In fact, I love it so much that I lost count of how many times I baked it within the last two months! It’s THAT good. You guys, my grandma even wrote it down in her recipe book and bought a kitchen scale just to make this cake, which is A FIRST for sure. That makes me feel proud of myself.

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It’s a mixture of whipped butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla bean, almond meal, ricotta cheese, and of course lots and lots of lemon zest. The first time I did this I thought the cake will turn out very dense because it is flourless – but to my surprise it is the lightest, moistest cake I ever tasted. It also has a beautiful, irresistible ground almond texture that melts in your mouth bite after bite.

Ingredients:
120g unsalted butter, room temperature
225g granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
3 tablespoons lemon zest (Around 2 medium to large lemons)
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
225g almond meal
320g high quality fresh ricotta cheese

Optional:
Flaked almonds for decoration
Icing sugar for dusting

Direction:
1. Pre-heat oven to 160°C  (325°F). Line the base of a 9″ (23 cm) round cake tin with baking paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest in an electric mixer and beat for 10 minutes until pale and creamy.
3. Scrap down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the egg yolks one at a time continuing to beat until fully combined.
4. Add the almond meal and beat to combine, then do the same with the ricotta cheese.
5. Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl with a hand-held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold half of the egg whites into the cake mixture. Repeat with the rest of the egg whites.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top, decorate the cake with almond flakes (optional).
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cooked and firm to touch. Allow to cool completely in the cake tin.
8. Dust with icing sugar before serving. Store in the fridge.