Whiskey cake a divine treat for a dinner party

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My friend threw a Prohibition-themed dinner party on Friday. I figured it would be too obvious to bring a bottle of booze, so I started looking for recipes that included alcohol. Since baking is my thing and the main course was pretty much decided, I decided to look in the dessert section of Bon Appetit, which is where I found this whiskey cake. Whiskey is my preferred spirit and thus one of few I always have on hand, so I decided this cake was the winner.

When I looked at the list of ingredients, I saw that it contained some key ingredients — espresso and vanilla — which are known for enhancing the flavor of chocolate in baked goods. The low amount of flour it called for also meant it would be a very rich, dense cake. The finished product was only about an inch thick, but the intense flavor more than compensated for the lack of volume.

Though the original recipe called for an 8-inch springform pan, mine is 9 inches so I had to make do. It only took 30 minutes for mine to bake completely. I followed the cooling instructions and frosted it the next day. While sometimes you can put the frosting on while the cake is still slightly warm, this is not one of these cases. This frosting isn’t like your traditional buttercream. No powdered sugar is involved, so it has less to keep it sturdy.

In the end, this small-but-mighty cake was a nice treat, and a sweet ending to a fun dinner.

Ingredients
1/2 cup plus Irish whiskey
6 ounces bittersweet (70 percent cocoa) chocolate (such as Scharffen Berger or Lindt), chopped
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 6 tablespoons hot water
1/3 cup blanched almonds (about 2 ounces), lightly toasted
6 tablespoons all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
7 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, separated
Pinch of fine sea salt

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour 8-inch-diameter springform pan.

Dissolve espresso powder in water. Set aside.

Boil 1/2 cup whiskey in small saucepan until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 2 minutes. Combine bittersweet chocolate, espresso powder mixture, and 1/4 cup boiled whiskey in small metal bowl. Place bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until mixture is smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Finely grind almonds with 2 tablespoons flour in processor.

Using electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup butter and 6 tablespoons vanilla sugar in medium bowl until fluffy. Beat in egg yolks 1 at a time, then sea salt. Fold in chocolate mixture, then ground almond mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into batter alternately with remaining 4 tablespoons flour in 3 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 30 minutes. Remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

Frosting
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons whiskey
1/4 cup butter, room temperature

Combine semisweet chocolate and remaining whiskey in small metal bowl. Place bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Add butter to chocolate mixture, 1 small piece at a time, whisking until each piece is melted before adding next. Place bowl over larger bowl of ice water. Using electric mixer, beat icing until thickened to spreadable consistency, about 1 minute. Spread icing over top and sides of cake. This can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover with cake dome and let stand at room temperature.

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Sandwich cookies suited to a more sophisticated palate

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Cookies are great, but not all adults want the same over-sugared treats that might be made for children. What about adults looking for something sweet and a little more grown-up than your average sugar cookie?

I’m a firm believer that there needs to be something for everyone on the holiday tray, which is why I was thrilled when I found this recipe for Hazelnut-Mocha Sandwiches in the Holiday 2010 edition of America’s Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies magazine.

The chief flavors in these cookies are provided by hazelnuts, espresso and chocolate. There’s no frosting to be found and no decorating to be done. The flavor reminds me of hazelnut biscotti, just in a different form. I’ve made these twice and received rave reviews both times from adults, particularly those who also love coffee.

I hope you enjoy this third cookie in my Christmas countdown.

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
1 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. With electric mixer on low speed, combine flour, nuts, sugar, salt and butter and mix until crumbly and slightly wet, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix until dough just begins to form. Finish kneading dough by hand to form large, cohesive mass. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Roll each dough half to 1/8-inch thickness and rechill until firm, 10 minutes. Using 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are light golden-brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough, gathering and rerolling scraps once.

In saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together heavy cream and espresso powder. Add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth; cool 30 minutes. Spread heaping teaspoon filling over bottoms of half of cookies; top with remaining cookies. Let sit until firm, about 1 hour.