Posts Tagged ‘chocolate cake’

Happy Small Birthday

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

Chocolate Peanut Birthday Cake

I recently had the pleasure of celebrating yet another birthday. I turned thirty-three, an age I chose because I enjoy the alliteration. (I received multiple Hallmark birthday greetings exhorting me to “do” whatever I want, after all, “…it’s your birthday!” I’m “doing” thirty-three. Thank you to Hallmark for the de facto permission slips.)

If you detect the slightest note of bitterness in my tone I will confess that I am not a big birthday guy. I don’t go around crowing, “Next Wednesday is my birthday! Yaaaay!” Just not my style. For me, birthdays help to tick the box on the following tasks: 1. Eat chocolate. 2. Check my surroundings and the overhead compartment to make sure I am still vertical, a/k/a breathing, a/k/a alive. Check. Double check.

The great thing about these reduced expectations is that I enjoy other peoples’ birthdays in a proportion equal to my own if not more—again, if there’s chocolate, and I’m still breathing, and they’re older.

On the surface it would seem ironic that I enjoy baking birthday cakes for my friends, but again, that simply ensures a socially acceptable source of chocolate consumption. Furtive chocolate consumption can be so…dreary. (Dreary is such a great word, but hard to use without sounding, well, dreary.)

Speaking of cake, a few months ago I got together with four or five friends to celebrate one of their birthdays. Someone had stopped by Magnolia Bakery and bought an enormous chocolate cake with frosting the color of a yellow highlighter. It was absolutely delicious. But the cake was so big that even after we all had seconds there was still enough left over for many, many more birthday boys and girls. I love birthday cake, but even a glutton like me has limits.

This is a scene repeated at birthday celebrations around the globe. Birthday revelers circled around a table, pointy hats perched jauntily on their heads, playing a game of, “Have another piece!”/ “No you have another piece.”/ “PLEASE, I’m just going to throw the rest away!”

Well, I’m here to end this game once and for all.

Here’s my proposal: I insist that it is easier to bake a little birthday cake than it is to bake a big birthday cake. Big cakes make you think of big metal pans, drums of frosting, and an endlessly whirling stand mixer.

But my little birthday cake concept is much more relaxed. Let’s break it down, shall we?

This is one time when baking from scratch has a clear advantage over a mix. When you bake from scratch you actually can scale down a recipe to make a smaller cake. Using a mix you are locked in to one or two pan sizes. While you could perhaps bake half a box of mix, the question would remain what to do with the other half? My easy chocolate cake recipe can be made with a big bowl and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.

Paper Panetone Molds

Paper Panetone Molds

Okay let’s talk pans shall we? I don’t have the nerve to insist that you should go out and buy five inch cake pans. (Martha would, but she and I run in different circles.) Instead, I recommend paper Panetone molds which will break the bank at approximately fifty cents a piece. Admittedly this is not a green solution. You use them once then toss them. But you won’t have to worry about your cake sticking to the pan.

So, the cake is done, but what about the frosting? For that thick, creamy, sugary frosting don’t you need a mixer? Fear not mixer-less folk! I have a magic ingredient. Sweetened Condensed Milk is a worthy short cut—yes, you may think I am taking a page from Sandra Lee, but the end result is too noble, and…uh, addictive for it to be offensive. It is a bit wholesome, and will pull together and smooth out the few other ingredients you’ll need to make frosting. (Like a Kitchen Aid in a can!)

I toyed with this concept for a while. Too much sugar? Too much fat? Then it dawned on me: this is cake frosting we’re talking about. It’ll never be health food.

As it happens, peanut butter is one of my favorite foods, and combining it with chocolate makes my heart sing. My Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting is worthy of the most important birthday on your list. It also tastes like something from an old-fashioned ice cream and confectionary shop, so if cake isn’t on your mind, warm it a bit and pour it over some ice cream.

Finally, don’t be afraid of decorating the cake. Just spread half the frosting between the layers and spread half the frosting on top. Don’t fret about getting the sides just right; Leave the sides naked to the breeze. Even cake maven Rose Levy Beranbaum endorses this concept for its relaxing informality.

But don’t forget the candles. Thirty three. Yes. That’s all.


Here’s the Chocolate Peanut Butter frosting recipe.

And here’s the All Occasion Chocolate Cake recipe.

And here’s more information about the paper Panetone molds. (Available at Sur La Table.)


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


The first tweet of spring!

Downton Seder

Flourless Chocolate Napoleons

Flourless Chocolate Napoleons

It should come as no surprise that I am an unapologetic Downton Abbey addict. I was a huge soap opera addict too. If any of the words you’re about to read appear smudged it is because I am still teary-eyed over the loss of One Life to Live. The latter has only been gone since January 13, yet I continue to stare longingly at the list of scheduled recordings on my DVR praying for a miraculous return from the dead (hey, this is after all soap opera we’re discussing. Anything can happen…)

Downton Abbey was a wonderful diversion from my loss, although it was a bit like being given one of those tiny four-piece boxes of Godiva chocolates when you are used to having an enormous Hershey’s with Almonds: it’s delicious, but gone in a blink. Are you sneering derisively at my choice of programming? That, chum, was part of the fun of being a soap fan, so there. If you have any illusions about Downton Abbey, let me help you out: it is a SOAP OPERA. All caps. Period. That’s why you loved it and can’t wait for it to return.

Part of its distinction is the amazing attention to detail that goes into its production. Predictably, my eye is drawn toward the many dinner table and kitchen scenes—seemingly more than most shows. The kitchen and the cooks, Mrs. Patmore and young Daisy, figure prominently in every episode. The folks upstairs eat a lot, and they eat well.

I have always been fascinated by the women who ran the kitchens in those houses. They were from a class of society where they had to “go into service.” Mrs. Patmore is portrayed stereotypically as a bit of a drudge: short, stout, and frowsy. (In fact, Lesley Nichol, the actress who portrays Mrs. Patmore, recently joked in an interview that when she reported to friends that she’d been cast in a sort of upstairs / downstairs series she replied to the question “Which one are you?” with the answer, “What do you think?”)

Yet, think about the skill, judgment, and knowledge required to do the job. I’m not talking about long hours here; walk into any contemporary restaurant kitchen and you’ll see folks putting in some mighty long days. I’m talking about the juggling needed. The Mrs. Patmores of the world fed the folks upstairs and downstairs, and did so while keeping within the budget set by the folks upstairs. You can be sure that she planned every menu around what was available seasonally and had to be able to credibly prepare meals that more than pleased the master and his wife—even if the meal was hunted by the master on the estate (would you know what to do with mutton?)

You can also be sure that special occasions had to be met with a worldly, well-informed eye keeping up with what the more fashionable houses were serving; not just any cake would do for dessert. If Lord and Lady So-And-So served it you did too.

(Okay, yes, perhaps I get too involved with these stories. But good story-telling does that to me.)

So I was thinking it might be fun to bake something in tribute to Downton Abbey and Mrs. Patmore (geek!). I’ve also been on a jag about baking stuff that is Passover friendly and gluten-free. Hopefully there’ll be chocolate involved. (No calories or fat would be even better; alas I’m not a magician.)

Flourless Chocolate cake is certainly nothing new in either the gluten-free or Passover realms. It’s a good idea, but it’s been around the block enough times that it could already use a new outlook.

Surely a woman like Mrs. Patmore was no stranger to the roulade and the genoise. These are cakes that rely on air beaten into the eggs for their leavening rather than baking soda or baking powder and are more what we associate with European-style cakes or tortes than the big fluffy monsters (and I use that as a term of endearment) we bake.

Yes, there is usually flour involved, but eggs are sturdy little creations and if you ask them nicely and treat them with respect they’ll do triple duty for you by adding moisture, structure, and lift to cakes, giving flour the day off. Roulade is baked in a small sheet pan—a jelly roll pan—convenient because roulade is filled with jelly and rolled…usually.

But I have other plans for it.

Rolling a roulade can be fussy. My roulade (chocolate by the way) is simply turned out of the pan and cut into shapes with a knife. You could also pull out your trusty biscuit cutter and make little individual layered tortes…drizzle a touch of lukewarm ganache on top.

I stuck with something I thought Mrs. Patmore would be proud of, Napoleons. I piped a bit of sweetened vanilla whipped cream between two layers of the roulade, and finished with fresh raspberries and dusted the whole affair with confectioner’s sugar.

Gluten- free Passover at Downton Abbey anyone?


Here’s the Flourless Chocolate Roulade recipe


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


Tweet this Masterpiece…


Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

No special occasion needed...

Some years ago I was invited to a party at the home of a close friend. When I arrived I made the usual and expected round of “Hellos” to all the people I knew at the party. My greetings included those to one who would best be described as a friend of a friend. She extended a disinterested hand and introduced herself as one would to someone you’d never met. Polite.

Unfortunately we’d played this little charade more times than I am comfortable mentioning. I had met this individual for the “first time” enough times that I don’t have enough fingers to keep count. I was seemingly purged from her memory after each meeting like the contents of your computer’s recycle bin. No recollection at all. Yet, I knew her name, both of her husbands’ names, how many kids she had, and a vague idea of their ages.

After another friend who witnessed this scene picked her jaw up from the floor we recovered nicely and had a nice party.

The next day I called the close friend who had proffered the invitation to thank him for his hospitality and in a moment of fed up candor let fly with the opinion that his friend was a dope. (Yes, I may have used a more explicit compound word.)

He offered some weak excuses for his friend that mainly revealed an acknowledgement and acceptance of her social shortcomings…her “problem” as he called it. He’s simply not a judgmental person. Rather than feeling slighted by this, I actually ended up wishing that I could be less judgmental.

Through the years the same scenario has happened to me a couple of other times with a couple of other people. I may be getting to the age that I just don’t care anymore. Wait. No. I’m not quite there yet. It still rankles and still doesn’t answer the question: if I remember you, why don’t you remember me?

Conversely, a few years ago I was at the theater seeing an awful play. I stepped outside to the street to use my phone. After I finished my conversation I turned to head back into the theater and was stopped by a smiling man who looked at me and yelled, “Bobby!” It took a moment to register that he was talking to me because my name is not Bobby. (Never has been.)

I shrugged, “Sorry, I think you have the wrong guy” and continued into the theater. But he persisted and followed me. In the brighter light of the lobby I could see he wasn’t some unhinged homeless man on a chemically induced field trip. He was nicely dressed, clean, and looked more than a little bit insulted.

“Are you sure you’re not Bobby Smith?”

Taking refuge amongst the theater’s front-of-house staff, I avowed, “Oh, yeah” but the man remained unconvinced—skeptical perhaps that a long lost friend was either playing a joke on him, or had entered the witness protection program.

It was at this point that one of us entered “The Twilight Zone” because he asked me to prove my identity by showing him my driver’s license. Luckily the gentleman was otherwise persuaded that I was, indeed, not Bobby, and departed.

(Actually, I think in part he was intimidated by one of the tougher looking ushers who was giving him the evil eye. I wouldn’t have wanted to mess with her either.)

Tall, bald, bespectacled, and what my grandmother used to call “hamish”: here in New York we are a rather interchangeable, dime-a-dozen crowd. Legions of us swarm the city taking each other’s Bar exams, drug tests, and marriage vows when the real guy is unavoidably detained or just off fishing. Will the real Bobby Smith please stand up?

And what of my insistent pursuer of mistaken identities? One could make a few guesses about him: unacknowledged poor eyesight…unobservant…perhaps he assembles the “no fly” lists for the TSA? Poor Bobby Smith (or is it Smythe?). With friends like that…

The ironic soundtrack to this little documentary is Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable.” (Use the version where they superimposed his daughter’s voice to create a duet. It’ll be easier to cross cut the film.)

It seems to me that the world may be divided into two groups: the first group looks at you, remembers you, and files you away in the appropriate area of their cortex to be recalled at will by the human brain’s amazing face recognition system. The other, much smaller, group lacks the ability to retain this information. It is to those poor, sad, souls that we must extend a hand to help them through the lunar landscape of social interaction.

Advertising copywriters have been addressing this problem for years in perfume ads. There’s even a perfume named “Unforgettable.” This is all based on the theory that the whiff of a perfume will implant itself in the cortex along with other memories of you. If the proximity is close enough, sometimes it really does work.

Some of us just aren’t the perfume type. That’s why they invented the chocolate cupcake. While we cannot wear cupcakes, we can bring them to work or to friends. There’s no need for a special occasion—we’ll create memories nonetheless. Someone will always remember you. Just play it very cool. “Oh, those? I had a few minutes so I threw them together.”

You won’t be lying. The recipe is part of my Bowl & Spoon program. No mixer is needed, even for the ganache frosting. They mix together quickly, and to frost them you only need to dip the tops in the ganache: no frosting technique is needed. If you can dunk, you’re in.

BTW: if you know Bobby Smith tell him that some guy who looks like the actor Kevin Pollack was looking for him.


Click here for the recipe for Bowl & Spoon All-Occasion Chocolate Cupcakes.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


Don’t forget to Tweet this posting… (Thanks from @butterflourblog)

Nostalgia: Not Just for Luddites Anymore

Newton Center Cupcakes

Cupcakes and ocean liners

Here’s a startling revelation: I am a soap opera fan. Some years ago my brother came home from college for winter break and stopped everything to watch “All My Children.” Those were the days when soaps were big on college campuses. I was hooked.

Maybe it’s in the blood: family legend has it that in the days before the invention of the VCR, a late Aunt stopped a Passover Seder between the third and the fourth questions so she could watch “Peyton Place”.

By the time I got to college the shared obsession was “One Life To Live” and I have followed that show, a/k/a, “my stories” on and off since then. (Mostly “on” since the invention of the DVR.)

It was recently announced that ABC has decided to cancel “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” and I’ll admit that the announcement made me a bit emotional. Not many folks watch the soaps anymore, so these shows, which used to be cash cows, have become drains on the network’s bottom line. I’m not here to complain or demonize anyone for this decision, after all, that’s show biz. They say that the soaps are dead. Really? Wait until their long lost “twin” shows up.

Supposedly reality TV has supplanted the soaps in the hearts and minds of the audience advertisers most want to reach. If my Baby Niece is any indication, that may be true. Folks have always criticized the soaps for outlandish storylines and silly plot devices. Guilty, but I say therein lies their charm, buffed to a sometimes uneven gloss by actors of varying talents reading from a script.

Reality shows? We are told we are seeing genuine outlandish behavior. Often though, reality TV feels like video of people who waited to misbehave until they saw the red light of the camera. You are left to wonder if they’d be flipping tables or throwing glasses of wine at each other even if the cameras weren’t there. Some great actors got their start on the soaps. Where will Snooki be in thirty years?

In the meantime, this has gotten me thinking about a rapidly changing world. I think a combination of technology and the ticking clock is at play. Nothing new here. Fifty years ago the Boeing 707 rendered the ocean liner obsolete. Yes, we still have cruise ships, but it is not quite the same experience. The s.s. United States was launched in 1952 and was the most technologically advanced liner in the world. She still holds the records for the fastest east and west transatlantic crossings, and it was widely advertised that the only wood on board was in the grand pianos. Yet, she has sat rusting and abandoned since 1969. Even her sleek mid-century interiors have been stripped away: they were loaded with asbestos. But she was—is—defiantly, a ship. In 2011, the largest cruise ship afloat, the “Allure of The Seas” features a tree-lined park, a Starbucks, and a 3-D theater. After all these years the good news is that the s.s. United States may become a fixed attraction on the New York waterfront, but her silent engines will likely bear witness to countless charity dinners, antiques shows, and Martha Stewart craft events.

No Luddite, I, the very fact that I write a blog—new media—is my testimony to that fact. I am a proud member of the digital / social media age, and I think it is all miraculous. Admittedly, I am conflicted about the BlackBerry and the iPhone, but that has more to do with living in a big city and having to constantly dodge people who walk the sidewalks of the city with their heads down, and of being subjected to them singing loudly in the gym to their “headphoned” music. (They hear Pavarotti. We hear the braying of a donkey.)

I was born too late to sail across the Atlantic on the s.s. United States, to see Olivier on stage as Hamlet, or to drive my Mom’s Rambler convertible. These things were meant to exist in their time and then leave behind only rapidly fading evidence of their existence—like paper streamers stretched between those departing on the ocean liner, and those back on the pier.

You assume things will be around forever. They won’t. That’s life.

I’d hate for you to think that I am a Gloomy Gus. No. There’s too much that’s great about the here and now. Someday we’ll be nostalgic for these “simple” times—a chilling thought.

Life is cyclical. The old maxim, “here today, gone tomorrow” should actually read, “here today, gone tomorrow, and then back again.” And look at all the stuff that has been rendered permanent by technology. Start with the written word and climb the ladder to “You Tube”.

Using a bit of old technology, you can even recreate childhood memories. When I was a little kid there was a bakery in Newton Centre, Massachusetts named Bob Ware’s Yum-Yum Shop. Bob Ware’s closed when I was a little kid –seemingly without an internet trace. Google it and you’ll find…me, or actually, my previous mention of the place. But to this day a certain cupcake my Mom used to bring home from Bob Ware’s (probably in her Rambler) has remained etched indelibly in my memory.

So using the aforementioned old technology called “baking”, I have resurrected this old favorite. And as I was leaning over the sink eating my chocolate cupcake (that’s where my Mother always ate them) I thought they were just as I remembered.

Cupcakes like these were likely a staple in neighborhood bakeries: nothing earth shattering, nothing revolutionary.  Their magic was in their subtlety. It wasn’t all about the big pile of frosting on top. I know that there are folks who insist that cupcakes are merely “delivery systems” for the frosting. This cupcake was a bit different and was more a tribute to balance and harmony…and there was not one ounce of buttercream. The cake was really good on its own (very dunkable), the chocolate glaze added a cap that could be peeled off and eaten separately. The ring of boiled frosting on top was as much a textural accent as a visual one. My Mom could linger over it a bit at the sink, one eye on “Love of Life” or “Secret Storm.”

A quiet moment before all hell would break loose: my brother and I coming home from school.


Click here for my recipe for “Newton Centre Cupcakes.”


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


Go ahead: tweet this posting. You know you want to…

Mamma’s Recipe

Torta Nera

Le ricette della mamma...

There is a paper flour bag that has been sitting on my pantry shelf for months. This is not a typo: I meant to write paper flour bag, not bag of flour. That’s because the paper bag is empty, the flour having long ago given its life in the cause of pizza.

I have the unfortunate habit of holding on to stuff like this, usually because a recipe is printed somewhere on the side. I think I’ve been intrigued by these side-of-the-box recipes ever since I was a kid and saw the famous “Mock Apple Pie” recipe printed on the Ritz Cracker box. I never understood why anyone would make a fake apple pie when the real one was so easy. Yes, the thought of wet, sugary, Ritz Crackers cooked in lemon juice is intriguing, but we’ll save that for another day.

There are times when there is no recipe on the package, but I may have found the shape or flavor of the cookie or cracker pictured inspiring. In those cases I will cut out the picture and add it to a growing but rather random file of similar items. Often these bits of inspiration find their way into recipes, although sometimes it is the “feeling” of the item rather than the actual flavors that makes its way into something I bake. “Homey” or “farmhouse” are adjectives that I may take away from a session of flipping through the file that contains these bits of cardboard.

How often do I actually make any of these recipes? Uhhhhh…I’m not sure that I ever have. Even more remarkable in the specific case of the paper flour bag, is the fact that the printing on the flour bag in question was in Italian, a language with which I have—at best—a nodding acquaintance.

Still, there was enough there that I could decipher, so I neatly folded the empty bag and stuck it in a place where it could occasionally wave, “Hello” to me and remind me of its existence.

Okay, the latter is a very passive explanation of what happened. Here’s what really happened: I am endlessly intrigued with anything that smacks of simple Italian cooking. The recipe on the bag begins with the title, “Le ricette della mamma,” or in English, “Mom’s recipe.”  I was hooked.

I know enough Italian that I could further identify cocoa and orange zest amongst the ingredients; this begs the question, “Why did I wait so long to make this recipe?” Dunno, but clearly its time has come. Hey, I never write about making other folks’ recipes. Leave it to me to choose one that I can barely understand.

Thank you, internet. If it weren’t for you I would have had to dig deep to find someone to patiently translate the recipe. But you did it quickly, and in the comfort of my own home. Very accommodating. And I was truly charmed by your word-for-word translation. Yes, I will “…ascend well the egg whites”, I promise.

The name, “Torta Nera” bodes well. It translates as “Black Cake.” If you love chocolate (ME!, ME!) that sounds mighty good. The recipe was written in metric weight? No problem. I have a scale which will translate into ounces and cups. (PS: I think electronic scales are indispensible for bakers.) Most of the ingredients are your cake-baking basics like milk, flour, butter.

But one ingredient translated poorly: “una bustina di lievito vanigliato.” This translated as, “a sachet of vanilla yeast.” Wha??

Because in my simple mind and imagination all Italians spring from the womb with innately superior cooking skills, my first assumption was, “Good god, these folks are so clever! They even have vanilla-flavored yeast!”

Alas, this is not the case. There’s no such thing as vanilla-flavored yeast. That would be your ultimate niche market item, after all how much Panettone can you make? In the meantime I was puzzled: Did they mean a packet of vanilla? A packet of yeast? Maybe the internet translator meant plain yeast instead of vanilla yeast?

The answer was found via just a bit more internet digging. What the recipe meant for me to use was vanilla-flavored baking powder, a common convenience ingredient used by Italian housewives. An “Aha!” moment, but I couldn’t find that product in New York City, so a bit of plain baking powder and vanilla extract would substitute.

I carefully weighed and measured each ingredient before moving on to the mixing instructions where I encountered a small glitch. Turns out Mamma must have been nipping at the vino. She listed 100 ml of milk as an ingredient, but then neglected to mention when to add it and / or how. That’s okay. I’ve made a cake or two in my time and was able to channel Mamma and figure it out.

A bit of background: in setting out to translate this recipe I was hoping for a cake that would simultaneously be a bit simple and rustic, yet have an unusual mix of flavors and textures. If not, why bother? I already have a chocolate cake recipe, who needs yet another? The fact that the recipe calls for type “00” flour, a finely-milled flour usually used in pizza dough or bread gave me hope for something a bit denser than the springy Hershey’s One-Bowl cake or Duncan Hines’ mix many are used to.

Mamma didn’t disappoint. The cake was dense and dark, with a crust that gives a soft but gratifying crunch when chewed. While she didn’t specify in her recipe how much grated orange zest to add, I assumed that she would prefer the cake to be well perfumed by the citrus and so I used a generous hand.

Since it is not as aggressively sweet as an American-style chocolate cake, I found that it would be eminently dunkable with a spot of Earl Grey or a spirited companion with a bit of Moscato di Asti.

Grazie Mamma!


Click here for the recipe for Torta Nera.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to


Go ahead: tweet this posting. You know you want to!

A Little Nosh Avec Friends

Savory Prosciutto Gruyere Cake

Savory Prosciutto Gruyere Cake

Parisians and New Yorkers have an awful lot in common. We both take undeserved hits for rudeness (I’m not rude, I’m just reserved), we both live in congested cities that are often crammed full of tourists (I’ll never forget the day I heard a woman at the corner of 44th and 8th yell at the top of her lungs, “GET OUT OF MY CITY!”), and we both love to eat.

I’ll give the Parisians points here. I’ll concede that, as “head-spinningly” great as New York food can be, Parisian food – especially bread and pastry – may be better. Or am I comparing pommes to oranges?

For New Yorkers, a great deal of entertaining is done over shared meals in restaurants. There are a few reasons why: many New Yorkers have small kitchens — small enough that they were built with the thought of limited use. Also, many New Yorkers do not have space for a dining room table, often making due with couple of stools at a counter, or a table for two folded or pushed into a corner.  (Furnishing a New York apartment is a game of constant tradeoffs where potential pieces of furniture compete for finite space. Dining tables often lose out to sofas. Flat panel TVs have been a boon: hang them on the wall and you’ve gotten rid of a major space gobbler, the TV table.)

While this sounds like New Yorkers are living lives of some kind of dining privation, nothing could be further from the truth. The sheer variety of cuisine just down the block or around the corner more than compensates. Only in a big city like New York can your Monday through Friday dinners take you from Down South to Down East to Vietnam, and back, even if you are a Kosher vegan.

The great New York City home buffet is often served from a coffee table, an arrangement I enjoy, as seconds are never far out of reach. Often, during the week entertaining consists of quick cocktails or wine at someone’s apartment before heading out to a restaurant. It is for the latter type of entertaining that Parisians have come up with a great idea: cake salée.

The English translation of cake salée is “savory cake”, and the implications are obvious: instead of fruit or chocolate and lots of sugar, a savory cake is made with hors d’oeuvre ingredients such as meat, cheese, and herbs. The job of a cake salée is to give folks having a little pre-dinner beverage a little pre-dinner – alcohol absorbing nibble. This frees the host from the bondage of preparing a variety of little cracker-borne nibbles.

A sensible idea, I think, although I suspect that if Americans had thought of it first the French may have turned up their noses; the convenience-over-art factor may have offended them. (Or am I paranoid?)

Of course, this is really just a baking powder or baking soda quick bread, not that far from drop biscuits or muffins. I baked a version of this over the weekend, using a variation of my Asiago Cocktail Bread recipe from last year. My version this past weekend stuck to the meat and cheese formula by using gruyere and prosciutto. It was delicious, although to be honest I think the combination lacked a certain spark of originality.

I think the challenge — and here’s where the French would approve — is to bring art to the convenience by choosing combinations that are not, to borrow a phrase from a friend, “typical.” So while the combination of prosciutto and gruyere was delicious, it was also predictable: a little bacony, a little cheesy, with the richness (heft?) that accompanies a double dose of indulgent ingredients.

Better would have been something with a touch of surprise without the extreme my Dad used to call “baloney and whipped cream.”

Roasted figs and rosemary sound like an unlikely pairing, but the intensity of the roasted figs would more than match the power of the rosemary, especially if roasted with a touch of brandy or calvados and a bigger touch of honey before mixing into the cake salee’s batter.

Of course, unroasted figs pair beautifully with Gorgonzola Dolce cheese, but I’ll have to run this cake salée through the Butter Flour Eggs Testing Lab; I’ll happily make this sacrifice as I have a few concerns about how the cheese will appear in the cake.  I’ll likely stick with a Gorgonzola Dolce with minimal blue veins.

Caramelized onion and black olive would bring a great sweet and salty combo to cocktail hour without a sugary hit, and would bring to mind Pissaladière – the classic French onion tart.

The standard 8” x 4” size loaf pan is fine for this bread / cake, but I also experimented with a 5” x 3” mini loaf pan and I think I prefer using the smaller pan. When the little loaves are sliced, each piece is the perfect size for pre-dinner nibbles.

No one will beg you to share a piece with them.


Click here for my recipe for Savory Prosciutto Gruyere Cake.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to

Holiday On Ice

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue

Like many New Yorkers, my kitchen is air conditioned only on special occasions. As luck would have it, I have several friends and family members whose birthdays fall during the summer. I grew up in a house where birthdays were always marked by a cake, so as an adult I feel compelled to extend the courtesy by baking birthday cakes for my friends. Those are the special occasions when I crank the kitchen a/c to its chilliest setting, which, to my liking, is just short of snowfall.

This weekend as our nation celebrates its birthday (“234?? You don’t look a day over…”) I’m lucky enough to have a friend who has invited me to watch the big fireworks display from her rooftop aerie. I’m using the description “rooftop aerie” more for fun than for accuracy. The truth is, her apartment is relatively modest, although she does have a postcard view of the Empire State Building and shared use of the roof. I’m not sure if her kitchen is air conditioned, even on special occasions. I’m too shy to ask. The question “Is your kitchen air conditioned?” seems a tad too close to “Is your refrigerator running?” for my comfort. I’m a little long in the tooth for what we used to refer to as “chicken calls.”

(You don’t remember “chicken calls?” When we were kids we’d pick folks at random from the phone book, call them, ask, “Is your refrigerator running?” and when they’d say, “Yes” we’d say, “Well you better run and catch it!” and then hang up.)

(Yes, I know it’s not funny. But I was – what – 8 or 9 years old? Where I grew up this was practically considered gang warfare.)

(No, I didn’t learn to cook at the reformatory.)

My second favorite modern convenience, after air conditioning – caller ID – has all but eliminated the scourge of chicken calls.

I am worried about the relative coolness of her kitchen because of the all American menu that has been planned — take out Chinese food and my cupcakes. The Chinese food can take care of itself: I’m worried about the cupcakes. If her kitchen is hot I’ll worry about them sitting out on the counter too long (The frosting will melt.) I also have what they refer to as a scheduling problem, that is, I don’t really have time Saturday or Sunday to bake and frost cupcakes. My only choice is to make them a few days ahead, and then stare fear in the eye by calling ahead to reserve fridge space.

Unlike Mrs. Weasley in the “Harry Potter” books, I don’t have the skills to wave a magic wand and make food appear. So, instead of magic, I’ll let chemistry do the work. I know that many folks insist that you can only bake cookies and cakes with butter. I, however, do not subscribe to such absolutes in baking (or in much else, to be honest.)

Bakers down south have agreed with this tenet for years. True Southern Red Velvet Cake is made with oil, not butter. Aside from making a lighter, springier, cake, oil has the further advantage of solidifying at a lower temperature than butter. What this means for me and you is that we can bake cakes with oil, store them in the refrigerator, and they’ll be light and springy right out of the fridge, unlike butter cakes which need some time to come up to room temperature. In addition, cakes made with oil freeze and thaw beautifully.

All of this got me to thinking about my sister-in-law. One of the “givens” of any chocolate cake made within my family is that it must be large enough for left-overs. After the stress of a long day’s work my sister-in-law eats forks-full right out the box without even removing it from the refrigerator. (And she’s what my Auntie used to refer to as a “mere slip of a thing.”) The point is, sometimes chocolate cake tastes better on the cool side.

On a warm summer Fourth of July night under the stars a nice cool piece of cake would be yummy. Frosting and fireworks. That’s my kind of holiday. Chocolate frosting is okay cold, although I admit it is better when the chill is off. There must be a frosting that tastes good and is the perfect consistency right from the fridge. (Not to mention saving me the round trip down stairs from my friend’s rooftop aerie to take the cupcakes out of the fridge to warm up.) Clearly it was time to get to work in the Butter Flour Eggs Frosting Lab.

I had already decided to bake Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes, an oil-based recipe. Red Velvet Cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese frosting but I usually frost Chocolate Cake with Italian Buttercream, which is a cooked meringue beaten with butter. It is smooth and fluffy. Splitting the difference seemed to be the obvious answer, as in Cream Cheese Meringue. I made the meringue as usual, and then beat in the cream cheese. The result was a bit loose, but the advantage of that was that instead of standing frosting cupcakes I merely dipped the tops of the cupcakes in the frosting. Each one came out smooth and perfect, with a little “Dairy Queen” swirly top that drooped as the cupcakes sat a while which lessened the cupcakes’ appeal not a bit.

Yes, yes, I know, Italian Meringue requires you to cook sugar to a specific temperature, and by extension requires the use of a candy thermometer. Never fear. You can substitute a jar or two of Marshmallow Fluff and beat that together with the cream cheese. The result will be a bit sweeter, and perhaps slightly overpower the delicate Chocolate Red Velvet cake, but that fear may be a reflection of my own preference for making things from scratch. Short of a blind side-by-side taste test who’s gonna know?

Either way, they’re Yankee Doodle dandy.


Click here for the recipe for Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue.


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to

Why is this woman smiling?

Chocolate cake makes people smile.

Chocolate cake makes people smile.

Well, a good old fashioned chocolate fudge cake will do that to you. You can tell from the candles that this one was a birthday cake–my mom’s birthday–and you can tell from the picture that we decimated about half of a pretty big cake. I made the cake.

There’s actually a fun story about what happened to the rest of the cake: my sister-in-law finished it over the course of several days in her usual manner: fork-full by fork-full, her entire upper body in the fridge. And yes, she left her fork in the box between sessions. I always find that a huge compliment: the cake was too good to bother taking the time to slice it and put it on a plate. Who needs all that ceremony? Just dive in!

I made the same cake for a friend’s 50th birthday party a couple of years ago. He threw himself a huge party, and I did not know most of the people there. The waiter he’d hired for the night assessed the crowd and sniffed, “These people won’t eat much of it.” (I wasn’t insulted. I looked at the crowd and thought the same thing. Lots of tight shirts.) Turns out we were both wrong. The cake evaporated. One guest, on finding out I’d baked the cake proposed marriage. Sort of. (He was already married.)

I don’t want you to think I’m boasting. The cake is good, yes, but that’s not what I’m all about. I’m more about what the cake (or any, uh, “celebratory pastry”) stands for. It says, “I love you. You are worth celebrating.” Isn’t that what everybody wants to hear as the years tick by?

Follow ButterFlourBlog on Twitter