Chocolate Torte

IMG_2594Avoiding wheat? Here’s a sweet fudgy treat just for you. My co-worker Nita went the extra mile for my birthday recently, digging around online to find a gluten-free cake option. She lucked out when she stumbled on this treasure, because it’s the rare flourless baked good that actually tastes GREAT!

So many gluten-free cakes and cookies taste like A) glue or B) sand. I’d given up trying to make gluten-free cakes or cookies. Better to just eat a chunk of chocolate or handful of peanut butter M&M’s to assuage the sweet tooth! In fact, another co-worker once texted me, asking what local bakeries had good gluten-free muffins. I texted back, “There is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin.” Mary’s response was crying laughing emoji and “Seriously, where can I get good gluten-free muffins?” And I texted again, “Good gluten-free is an oxymoron. I’m serious, there is no such thing as a good gluten-free muffin!” (I’m kinda proud of myself for using “oxymoron” in a text. No need to dumb down our vocab just cause we’re using our thumbs, now is there? crying laughing emoji…)

But Nita found an exception to the rule (on allrecipes.com, flourless chocolate cake II), and I think you’ll love this quick and easy recipe as much as I do. I’ve made it a couple times now—for one of our famous November family birthday parties (4 outta 7 have b-days that month), and again for my book club. Raves all around.

Makes 8 Servings

4 – 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter, and dust with cocoa powder (this keeps it entirely gluten-free).

Put chocolate and butter in a large glass measuring cup and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir, and repeat for an additional 30-60 seconds as needed to melt chocolate. In large mixing bowl, combine melted butter and chocolate, sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, and vanilla, and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve right away with ice cream, or let cook completely and serve next day.

TIP #1: Cover with dish towel or loose foil if keeping overnight. If covered with plastic wrap or tight tin foil, it will get soggy.

TIP #2: Anyone else have trouble cutting brownie-like treats? They seem to get all crumbly and fall apart as you try to slice them, and even the sharpest knife won’t help. My fellow book clubber, Sherie, said she always cuts brownies and gooey bars with a plastic knife, so I tried it. VOILA! It worked like a charm. #kitchenhack

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cake

IMG_2423What’s the best way to get your daily dose of vegetables? In a cake, I say! OK, you’re not going to win any “Nutrition Expert of the Year” award by throwing zucchini in a dessert, but you will win people over with this moist, delicious creation. I went on a bit of a zucchini bender last weekend, after my co-worker Nita brought me a gourd the size of a baseball bat (well, half the length, but otherwise the comparison is accurate…). Her mother had pawned the monster off on her, and she brought it to me, rationalizing that a foodie would accept the challenge of how to make use of massive amounts of the veggie. And she was right.

So this was the first of three new recipes I tried in order to use up the behemoth. I found several variations of this on allrecipes.com, and added in the cinnamon and cloves per a reviewer’s comment. How was it? DEE-licious. I will definitely make it again! And my taste-testing co-workers concurred. They all thought these bars/cake were great. No one minded the added fiber in the dessert—it only made it all the more moist and memorable.

Serves 12-16

½ cup milk
1½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar
2½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon cloves
½ cup butter, softened
1½ cups white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch pan. Mix the milk and vinegar in a large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes to sour the milk.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, baking powder, and cloves in a bowl. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl on medium to high speed. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract, and beat until combined. Slowly add the flour mixture alternately with the soured milk until all ingredients are combined. Fold in the zucchini. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Ice cream or whipped cream topping always a welcome addition, but not required. Cover with foil if serving next day.

Green Tea Pound Cake

IMG_2180This moist cake tastes like pound cake, but there’s not a trace of butter used in the batter. The surprising green hue comes from matcha green tea powder, which has very little flavor component to it—at least the powder I used wasn’t terribly potent. And why was I testing a cake recipe using green tea powder? Here’s the back story. 
Hosting students from other countries has expanded our culinary tastes, encouraging us to try all sorts of unique foods. We’ve grown especially close to one of our students, Kana Miyamoto, from Japan. She loved that she got to stay in the home of a foodie, and we loved that she was game to try everything we offered her! After her last visit, she sent me a box full of food-related items unique to Japan. I’ll need a translator to figure out what some of the packets are… But there was a bag of matcha green tea powder that had some English on it, so I searched online to find something to do with it. A cake similar to this is posted on several sites, so I’m not sure of the recipe’s origin. 
FullSizeRenderAs for “selling” this recipe, don’t know quite what to say. My co-workers said “it tastes like pound cake” as they gobbled it up. I offered it with Reddi-Wip® as a topping, because, well, whipped cream makes everything better. It was good, and I’ll make it again, maybe increasing the amount of matcha. As I said earlier, the green tea powder didn’t have much flavor, and my cake wasn’t as green as others pictured online. Given that it uses olive oil and Greek yogurt, it’s a slightly healthier version of the traditional pound cake.* Slightly. So play the “it’s good for you” card when you serve this to guests. That always works, right?
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup matcha green tea powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
cups sugar
3 eggs (room temperature)
½ cups olive oil (either regular or extra virgin)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½-1 teaspoon almond extract (depending on how much almond flavor you want!)
Powdered sugar for dusting cake
Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Prepare a 10-cup Bundt pan by spraying it with Pam, or greasing and flouring the pan. In medium bowl, combine the flour, matcha powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt and sugar until blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the olive oil and vanilla, and combine. Gradually add in the flour mixture until blended. Add the remaining flour and fold just until combined. Don’t overmix.
Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Let sit for 15 minutes and then invert onto serving plate and let sit until completely cool. Sift powder sugar on top of the cake and enjoy!
*NOTE: I’ve read that pound cake got it’s name because it originally used a pound each of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar.

Spicy Pumpkin Bundt Cake

IMG_1172You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something pumpkin flavored in the fall, so it’s at the risk of pumpkin overload that I post this. I just tried this moist and delicious pumpkin cake recipe, after seeing it on Martha Stewart’s website. It called for cake flour, which I didn’t have, so I subbed in all-purpose flour using this little trick that’s all over the internet: measure out 1 cup flour, then remove 2 tablespoons, and sift in 2 tablespoons corn starch. Use that concoction cup for cup as a replacement for the cake flour. I have a confession to make—I don’t think pumpkin actually has much flavor! Now, don’t pummel me with candy corn for my sacrilege against the sacred gourd. While it adds moistness to a recipe, it’s really the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in a recipe that we associate with the pumpkin-infused desserts and drinks so popular in autumn. (Personally, I think butternut and acorn squashes have more going on in the flavor department…)

Some people, like my daughter-in-law Jessica, can totally rock a layer cake. But cake making is my Achilles heel, so I love a good, simple Bundt®* cake recipe, especially one like this that requires no frosting. A light dusting of powdered sugar is all that’s needed to finish this tasty cake, and bing, bang, boom, it’s ready to serve. Maybe add a dollop of whipped cream or Cool Whip if you’re going to serve this instead of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving… And then watch this clip from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as a reminder that the term “Bundt® cake” isn’t universally recognized.

Serves 12-16

Rating: easy

4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), or 4 cups all-purpose flour minus ½ cup flour, plus ½ cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2½ cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk**
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Spray a 14-cup Bundt® pan with cooking spray or coat with butter. Dust with flour, and tap out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Reduce speed to low. Beat in flour mixture gradually, alternating with the buttermilk or sour milk. Beat until just combined. Add pumpkin puree, and beat until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake until golden and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55-60 minutes. Let cool on awire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully turn cake onto rack to cool completely. Before serving, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

*FUN FACT: The Bundt® pan was created in the 1950’s by Nordic Ware, a Minneapolis company started by a husband and wife post-WWII to make Scandinavian ethnic cookware products. It comes in a wide variety of fluted or ridged configurations within the general ring shape. No one recipe needs to be used with the Bundt pan—it works for hundreds of different cake batters, as well as making a beautiful Jell-O mold.

**NOTE: I’ve never bought buttermilk when it’s called for in a recipe. I always make my own sour milk by putting 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in a measuring cup, and filling it with 1% or 2% milk (don’t use skim—the milk needs some fat to “sour”) to 1 cup measurement. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes before using in recipe.

Black Bean Brownies

IMG_1093If it wasn’t in the title, you wouldn’t believe the secret ingredient in these moist and chocolatey gluten-free brownies was a can of black beans! I found this recipe on food.com, and it  had been raved about by many-a reader. I’m experimenting with a gluten-free diet, and have been going crazy for some baked goods, preferably something that didn’t taste like ground chalk had been used in lieu of flour. (Those of you who’ve had to avoid gluten for a while know what I’m talking about…) This looked intriguing, and as it only makes a 9″x9″ pan, I figured I didn’t have much to loose if they were nasty. But surprise, surprise! They weren’t a waste of ingredients or time—they went together in just minutes, and tasted pretty good.

IMG_1080The first time I made these, I added both a teaspoon of baking soda and baking powder to the mix, as other reviewers suggested it would make them more cake-like. That was too much leavening, and they tasted metallic. (They also sunk in the middle, another sign of too much soda or powder.) I dusted them with powdered sugar instead of frosting them, and as my co-worker Darin said, they looked so rich and dark, you expected a little more chocolate taste than you got. (Darin is SUCH a whiner… Not!) So the next time I made them, I frosted them with half a recipe of buttercream frosting (from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container), and that gave me the rich chocolate flavor I was lusting after. Using only 1 teaspoon baking soda worked better, too. The next time I make them, I think I’ll try them without any soda, and see if they come out fudgey, or just gooey. 

Note that you will need a blender or food processor to have success with this batter, and you’ll want to puree until no grains of bean remain before baking. Other than that, this recipe is a piece of cake! Or more accurately, a chunk of brownie. 

1 (15½ ounce) can black beans (rinsed and drained)
3 eggs
3 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar

Buttercream frosting

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until completely pureed. Pour into a greased 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ cake pan or baking dish. Bake for approximately 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting or cutting.

For frosting, cream butter in medium mixing bowl, using wire whisk attachment for mixer. In separate medium-size bowl, combine powdered sugar and cocoa. Add about half of sugar and cocoa to creamed butter, then drizzle some milk into bowl and stir. Add the rest of sugar/cocoa, and the vanilla, and as much milk as needed to make frosting a good spreading consistency. Frost cooled brownies. Lick bowl, spatula, beaters, etc. Wipe face to remove evidence.

Cranberry Pecan Bars

IMG_1157A pop of rich red makes these cranberry bars look special enough for company, yet these sweet-tart treats are easy enough to make any old day. With cranberries showing up in grocery stores soon, I thought I’d share this delicious recipe I found on www.food.com, sent in by Wisconsinite and cranberry-lover Bonnie Young. They use mostly kitchen staples, and mix up in just a few minutes. I found they work better with frozen cranberries, as the fresh tend to mush and bleed into the batter and that makes them not so pretty. But the frozen berries make the batter very stiff, so you have to pat (or smash, if that’s more your mood) it into the pan with a spatula. Worth the effort though—the result is a deliciously chewy cake-like bar with just enough tang to keep you wanting more.

Makes 12-15 bars

½ cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans
2 cups frozen cranberries
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Butter a 9″x13″ baking dish and set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream butter. Add eggs and cream again. Add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and beat again. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add to creamed butter and sugar mixture. Stir in nuts with large wooden spoon until combined. Fold in cranberries. Press batter into prepared baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until top of bars are light golden brown. (Bars may not appear to be cooked all the way through when removed from oven, but they will set up as they cool.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar and let cool to room temp before cutting with very sharp knife.

(Shout out to Monique Kleinhuizen, who brought me a huge bag of fresh cranberries—the size of grapes—from a cranberry festival her family attended in Wisconsin. Used them in the batch of bars pictures here. Awesome berries!!!)

Marynona’s Rhubarb Cake

IMG_0826My mother-in-law was one of those women who turned all the food she touched into culinary gold. This rhubarb cake was one of her masterpieces—a simple, sweet and tangy dessert that’s a perfect finish to any summer meal. When she moved to Florida, she missed making this treat, as rhubarb doesn’t like the heat in the southern states. So I always tried to make it for her when she came up for a visit. It was the least I could do, since she shared the recipe with me! Now, savoring this treat is nostalgic for us, as my mother-in-law passed away a couple years ago. Two of my sons like grandma’s cake recipe so much they request it on their birthdays each year, over chocolate cake—which makes me question if they are truly my offspring. The appeal of this particular recipe is the moist, velvety texture of the cake, which it gets from the addition of sour milk as well as the rhubarb. 

Serves 8-12

Cake

1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup sour milk (or purchased buttermilk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped rhubarb

Topping

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. To make sour milk, put 1 tablespoon white vinegar in glass measuring cup. Add milk to 1 cup line. Stir, and set aside for 15-30 minutes to allow milk to sour. (Best to use 1%, 2%, or whole milk. There needs to be some fat in the milk to curdle.) Prepare 3-quart rectangular glass baking dish* by coating with shortening, and sprinkling with sparse amount of flour. Remove excess flour from pan. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl fitted with paddle attachment, cream together shortening and brown sugar. Add egg, and cream again. Add sour milk and vanilla, and stir. Scrape down sides of bowl and stir again until all ingredients are combined. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add to creamed shortening and sugar mixture, stirring on low until all flour is incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer and fold rhubarb into batter with rubber scraper or large wooden spoon. Pour batter into prepared baking pan.

In small bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle on top of cake batter. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched gently in center. Cool on wire rack for 30-60 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla or strawberry ice cream, if desired.

*NOTE: You need to bake this cake in a glass dish, as the acid from the rhubarb will eat into the finish of metal pans, and can given the cake an unpleasant metallic flavor, in addition to ruining your pans.

Corn Bread

IMG_0718When my college-age son Mitchell called (a real live phone call! not a text!) to ask how I made my corn bread, I thought I’d post this fabulous recipe for everyone. My friend Mary Ericksen shared it with me after I complained about my dry, crumbly corn bread recipe. This is the best corn bread ever—it’s actually more of a corn cake, but let’s not haggle over the name. The addition of a generous amount of sour cream makes it moist and delicious. We love dipping wedges of it in a bowl of hot chili on a cold winter day, or munching on it with a slab of barbecued ribs. It’s also great slathered in homemade cheddar cheese sauce and served with a couple slices of ham.

Makes 8 servings

1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup white flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt, if you want to cut calories)
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Spray round 9” cake pan, or 9”x9” square baking dish with cooking spray. Combine all ingredients in large mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment. Beat just until all ingredients are combined, scraping bowl occasionally with rubber spatula.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish and use spatula to smooth batter down a bit. (It will be thick.) Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Top of corn bread will be light golden brown when done. Let cool on wire rack for 15 minutes or more before slicing and serving.