Friday, September 25, 2009

Hiding under that aluminum foil...

I've had some very observant and curious readers ask me just what was under that foil next to the Almond Praline Cake.  Here's a photo of the other desserts I served for our casual, "Meet the PhotoArtists" night at the cafe' last year. 

From left to right:
Cherry & Pear Frangipane Torte, Pumpkin Ginger Streusel Pie, Poppyseed/Chocolate Pound Cakes,
Chai Tea Cheesecake, Almond Praline Cake, and in the back: Orange Pecan Biscotti

Thanks for asking! 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Almond Praline Cake with Mascarpone Frosting and Chocolate Bark

Here's a cake that has it all, and the flavors are perfect for this time of year.  This cake, with layers rich and delicious made with the addition of almond paste; the filling, laden with chocolate ganache and almond praline; then topped with a sumptuous mascarpone frosting is sure to satisfy anyone's sweet tooth.  I made no alterations from Bon Appetit's recipe with the exception of the decorating.
  You just can't improve on perfection.

Ganache filling:
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

Almond cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 7-ounce packages almond paste,* crumbled into 1-inch pieces
7 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 teaspoons almond extract

Almond praline:
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole almonds, toasted

Mascarpone frosting:
1 1/2 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese**
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Chocolate bark:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
For ganache filling:

Simmer cream and sugar in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth. Chill until just spreadable, about 6 hours.

For almond cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottoms with parchment paper; dust pans with flour. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl. Using heavy-duty mixer, blend brown sugar and butter in large bowl. Beat in almond paste 1 piece at a time, then beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. Fold in dry ingredients. Divide batter among pans; smooth tops. Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack.

For almond praline:
Line baking sheet with foil. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until deep amber, swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush occasionally. Mix in nuts. Pour onto foil; cool. Peel foil off praline. Chop praline coarsely. DO AHEAD Praline can be made 1 day ahead; store airtight at room temperature.

For mascarpone frosting:
Beat all ingredients in large bowl just to soft peaks (do not overbeat or mixture will curdle).

Run knife around pan sides to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out; peel off paper. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread half of ganache over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup praline. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining ganache over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup praline. Top with third cake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. DO AHEAD Cake can be made 1 day ahead; cover with cake dome and chill. Store remaining praline airtight at room temperature.

For chocolate bark:
Line baking sheet with foil. Melt chocolate in small bowl set over saucepan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from over water. Drizzle all but 1 tablespoon chocolate over foil in thick (about 1-inch-wide) zigzag lines (chocolate will pool in spots). Sprinkle 3 tablespoons praline over chocolate; chill bark until firm, about 1 hour.

Press praline around bottom 2 inches of cake; sprinkle more atop. Peel foil off bark; break into pieces. Press edges into frosting atop cake. Remelt 1 tablespoon chocolate over simmering water, stirring often. Using spoon, drizzle chocolate over cake. DO AHEAD Chill up to 4 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.

This recipe was featured in Bon Appetit, March 2007

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lazy Susan

Perhaps it's the weather.....just beautiful here at the Jersey Shore.....perhaps it's the Raul song playing on my iPod right now:  Dream River where he sings of "floating down a dream river...." and it's making me feel quite mello, but both are contributing to a very relaxed.....maybe it's instrospective......but ultimately, lazy feel to the day.  One thought led to another, and mom's Lazy Susan entered the picture. 

In fact, a friend and I were discussing a Lazy Susan made from a wine barrel lid that was quite pricey, although rustic and a great conversation piece as well as a practical addition to one's table.  I imagine it was only time before I featured another retro item that I have in my serving collection of treasures that originally were purchased by or for my mom.  Looking at and using these items make me feel as if she's still right here.....though I don't need a tangible item to feel her presence at all times.  I think what it does, is allow the memory of her actions to  That might make sense to some. 

But here we have the Lazy Susan.  I checked on the origin of the name, since I really had no idea.  Most accounts state that the name appeared in a Vanity Fair article in 1917 for a revolving server.  Early stories describe revolving servers were often tiered and called, dumbwaiters; that term later used to describe  servants' elevators.  There are also accounts of servants being known as, "Susans," hence the revolving tray would assist the lazy server. 

Well, whatever the origin, our Lazy Susan was used primarily for an Italian antipasto.  The center covered bowl would be filled with a salad.  No dressing....oil and vinegar served separately.  In the surrounding dishes, you'd find assorted olives, cheeses, anchovies (if my sister, Donna and I didn't eat the whole can first), salami, pepperoni, roasted peppers, eggplant, and anything else that would be considered fit for an antipasto.

Of course as kids, we just liked spinning the tray.....even if we didn't really want that other olive or piece of cheese.  It gave us something to do while the grownups talked about boring things.  Well, that piece of serveware speaks to me now.....and everything it has to say fills me with warm memories. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


White Chocolate Tiramisu Trifle with Spiced Pears
If there's one dessert that is almost foolproof, but yet impressive looking and tasty, it's the Trifle.  Traditionally prepared with ladyfingers or sponge cake brushed generously with liqueur, you can use any absorbant cookie or cake, such as poundcake or anisette cookies.  The cake is then spread with preserves or fruit syrup; topped with a pastry cream and/or whipped cream; then layered with fresh fruit.  This process is repeated, until you have several layers to fill a trifle or other pretty, glass serving bowl.  Whipped cream decoratively tops the entire dessert along with any fruit, cookie, or chocolate garnishes.  What's even better about a Trifle, is that it's best made the day ahead, or at least early in the morning of the day you plan to serve it to give the flavors time to mingle and for the cookies or cake to soak up the liquid and soften.   I'd wait until right before ready-to-serve before topping with whipped cream

The photo shown above is a beautiful and delicious variation of the traditional, English Trifle, and was in Bon Appetit's December 2007 issue; now on  Since I did make this recipe, I can tell you without hesitation, that it's a showstopper in looks and in taste.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

May I be Frank?

All of us have that one dish that perhaps is not the best for us.....doesn't rank among the healthiest choice on the menu.....but, every once-in-a-while, we just need to have it.  For whatever reason, I needed to feast on something totally indulgent today.  My dish?  Macaroni and and a Creamy Cheese Sauce doused with Frank's Hot Sauce.  (My son, Adam got me hooked on Frank's).  Unfortunately, I had to share with two others, but ok, my waistline is all the happier for that.  Here's my recipe for comfort:

 (The latter, of course, is optional)

1 box elbow macaroni, cooked, and kept warm
6 slices center cut bacon, cooked until crisp
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, diced
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (whole is best)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh basil
2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh parsley
1 cup shredded Montery Jack and/or Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Frank's Hot Sauce

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter; add onion and garlic.  Saute' for 5 minutes.  Add flour and stir constantly for one minute.  Gradually, add milk; whisking until incorporated, smooth and thickened; about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add chicken stock and whisk until heated through.  Add basil, parsley, cheeses, and black pepper; heat until cheeses are melted and sauce is thickened, smooth, and hot.  Combine macaroni and sauce; crumble bacon over and stir to combine.  Spoon into bowls......serve with Frank's. 

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's Pumpkin Time

Always sad to see summer come to a close, but I welcome the crisp, clean air of autumn. The trees seem to be ablaze with the beauty of nature's colors in shades of gold, bronze, and red, and it's easy to see why artists never tire of capturing this seasonal canvas.

Nor, do we ever seem to tire of the aromas of spicy and creamy pumpkin pies baking in the oven. There is just something comforting in the tastes and smells of "this time of year."

I tried a new twist on the traditional pumpkin pie last year at the cafe', incorporating butterscotch in the filling--a recipe I had found in Bon Appetit. It was luscious.....smooth.....delicious. I also made several Pumpkin Cheesecakes with Gingersnap Crusts; Pumpkin Scones and Biscotti, but one of the easiest recipes.....and a big hit, was my Pumpkin Roll with a Cannolli Cream filling........served with whipped cream, of course. (What's a few more calories among friends?) All of those desserts are shown here, but here's the recipe for the Pumpkin Roll. This is the traditional one found on Libby's Pumpkin for the cake; but the filling is my Italian twist.


1/4 cup powdered sugar, to sprinkle on towel)
3/4 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 cup ground pecans, optional (Libby's calls for walnuts, optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 15 x 10 inch jelly roll pan; then line with parchment paper. Lay out a clean kitchen towel; dust with powdered sugar.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt in a bowl; blend eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl until thick; add pumpkin; beat to combine. Stir in flour mixture. Spread mixture evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top springs back when lightly pressed with finger. Immediately loosen edges of cake and invert onto prepared towel. Peel off parchment paper; roll cake along with towel from the short end, and place on wire rack to cool completely.

Cannolli Cream Filling:

16 ounces Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon orange flower water
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, optional

Combine mascarpone and sugar in mixing bowl; blend on low until combined well. Add zest and orange flower water until incorporated; mix in chocolate chips.

Unroll cake carefully and remove from towel; spread cake with filling; reroll; place seam-side down on serving dish; refrigerate until ready to use. Sift additional powdered sugar over the top; slice on the diagonal; serve with whipped cream. (I spread my whole cake with whipped cream, as shown in the photo).