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.

Light, delightful coconut bread

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Spring gets me in the mood to make quick breads with fresh fruit and light flavors. I had a bag of unsweetened coconut in my cupboard that had gone unused for months, so I decided it was time to put it to good use. I came across this recipe for coconut bread from Smitten Kitchen and decided it was the best way to use it.

I don’t like overly sweet breads so, though her recipe called for sweetened coconut, I used the unsweetened coconut I had without adding any sugar, and it was perfect. The bread is light, fluffy, and slightly sweet.

Heed the warning not to overmix the batter. I did that on my first attempt and it made the bread far too dense. The second time around, it was perfect.

Ingredient
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or melted and browned, if desired
Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray for baking pan

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add sugar and coconut, and stir to mix. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture, then stir wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add butter, and stir until just smooth — be careful not to overmix.

Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or coat it with a nonstick spray. Spread batter in pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan five minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Vanilla ice cream ready for scooping

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I have finally made scoopable ice cream. Those of you who read my blog regularly know this is something I’ve been struggling with for a couple months now, so I was thrilled when the latest edition of Bon Appétit showed up with ice cream on the cover.

One of my best friends from college randomly decided to visit this weekend. I hadn’t seen her in about five years, so I was really looking forward to the visit. Which also meant I was thinking about what I could have for her when she arrived. I decided to give a new ice cream recipe a chance.

When tackling a new kind of dessert, I like to find a great base recipe before I really start experimenting with flavors. It turns out that can be a tricky task when it comes to ice cream. But, after trying about five different recipes, Bon Appétit’s True Vanilla Ice Cream was the winner.

I have to admit that when I finished the custard mixture, I was a little nervous about how it would turn out. The custard was thinner than the custard other recipes produced. But I think that’s why this recipes works. Instead of getting a dense frozen custard after putting it through the ice cream maker, you get a nice, flavorful — and, most importantly, scoopable — ice cream.

I’m really happy with the way this ice cream turned out. Now I feel confident that I can start trying more flavors.

2Vanillaicecream072813Ingredients
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks

Combine heavy cream, whole milk, 1/4 cup sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds; add pod (or use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract). Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover; let sit 30 minutes.

Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup warm cream mixture. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.

Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water; let cool, stirring occasionally. At this point, you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and cover it by putting plastic wrap directly on the top of the custard. It can cool overnight in the fridge and be processed in the morning.

Process custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container; cover. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.

A taste of Tahiti

Until Saturday, I had never attempted to make ice cream. Every recipe I’d ever seen required an ice cream maker, and I never felt that was worth the investment. When I turned on the Food Network on Saturday morning, Giada De Laurentiis was doing a show on foods inspired by her Tahitian vacation. One of the things she was making was Tahitian Ice Cream. Her recipe didn’t require an ice cream maker, so I decided to try it.

The process of making the ice cream was a lot simpler and quicker than I had anticipated. Once the cream is whipped to the proper consistency, just mix in the rest of the ingredients, put it in the dish and freeze it.

Toasting the coconut proved to be more difficult. The first time I tried toasting it in the oven, as Giada’s recipe instructed, it burned. I checked it and stirred it after four minutes and put it in for another two, but it was completely black after those two minutes. The second time I tried doing it in a pan and pulled it off the burner when it turned golden brown, but I didn’t consider that it would keep cooking in the pan after I took it off the burner. It burned again. The third time I watched it more carefully and took it off the burner when it was light brown. It cooked until it was golden brown. Third time’s a charm.

The recipe calls for light rum, but all I had was dark rum, so the flavor dominated the ice cream. Next time I’ll reduce the amount of dark rum or use light rum, as the recipe says. The consistency was not as thick as store-bought ice cream, but it was still good. The toasted coconut added a nice contrast to the texture of the ice cream. I bet this would also be good served with fresh pineapple as a topping.

Ingredients
1 teaspoon gelatin
1 vanilla bean, preferably Tahitian
2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup light rum
1/2 cup toasted coconut, see Cook’s Notes

Place 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and allow softening, about 2 minutes. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the water mixture using a paring knife. Add the empty vanilla pods. Stir the water mixture over medium heat until the gelatin has dissolved. Set aside to cool slightly. Remove and discard the vanilla pods.

Beat the cream until thick using an electric hand mixer in a medium bowl. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the cream holds soft peaks. Add the water mixture, coconut milk and rum. Beat until thick and light.

Pour the mixture into an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish. Freeze until the mixture is the texture of soft-serve ice cream, about 2 1/2 hours.

Scoop the mixture into small glasses using an ice cream scoop. Garnish with toasted coconut and serve. Freeze any unused ice cream in an airtight container.

Cook’s note: To toast coconut, place sweetened or unsweetened, shredded or flaked coconut in a single layer in a small frying pan over medium heat. Stir the coconut every couple minutes. Remove from heat when it is just starting to turn light brown. If you leave it in the pan, watch the coconut and continue to stir it until golden brown.

If freezing the ice cream for longer than 2 1/2 hours, allow the ice cream to stand at room temperature until softened, about 30 minutes before serving. Whisk the ice cream until smooth and serve.