Sunday, November 16, 2014

Devil's Food Chocolate Cake

I have a recipe for chocolate cake that I go back to again and again, yet I reaaallllllly have 26 recipes for chocolate cake.

It's amazing how many chocolate cake recipes are out there... some with butter and some with oil; with brown sugar or white sugar; milk or buttermilk; coffee or water....

Do we need that many? Yes. Isn't one enough? No. 
You can never have enough recipes for good chocolate cake. I love all my 26 equally.

Devil's Food Cake is named for it's reddish brown-coloured crumb. Achieving this colour depends a lot on the type of cocoa powder you use and ultimately the pH, or acidity, of the batter.

A true Devil's Food chocolate cake will have baking soda as part of the leavening system. It will also use water as some portion of the liquid ingredients along with buttermilk or sour cream to provide some acidity. 

Classic chocolate cakes use milk which is relatively neutral and produces a gentle, soft chocolate flavour. Milk proteins also interact and bind with the colour-producing polyphenols in cocoa powder, which can alter their flavour and appearance.

Water is neutral too, but... it's just water. Just as well as it is clear, it does not get in the way of the cocoa's colour. Also, taking the extra step of combining cocoa with boiling water before adding it to the batter helps to wake it up and bring forth its intensity by hydrating it. 

On a scale of ACID to ALKALINE, light brown/tan sits on the acid side, reddish-brown is slightly alkaline and dark brown/black is far on the alkaline end.

Baking soda is utterly alkaline, meaning that it has a very high pH. Alkaline compounds react with colourful cocoa polyphenols to make them appear darker. If the batter only has baking soda, you can be pretty sure you will have a very dark brown cake - especially if that cake is made with water. However, all baking powder, which contains acid and alkaline compounds, will produce a lighter crumb. A mix of baking soda and baking powder helps to create just the right colour in this recipe.

A chocolate cake made with heaps of baking soda would taste horrible if there were no acid ingredients to neutralize it. Residual sodium bicarbonate leaves a soapy bitter taste in cakes. A strategic amount of sour cream adds enough acidity to react sufficiently with baking soda to prevent making soap cake, yet still deliver a devilish colour.

Because this recipe uses baking soda and baking powder as well as sour cream, you can use either natural cocoa powder or a lightly Dutch-processed type. In other words, this recipe doesn't rely solely on the acidity of natural cocoa in order to react with baking soda. However, please do not use some sort of "Black" or ultra Dutched cocoa because they are excessively alkalized with a pH over 8 (that means it is very soapyesque).

There's a time and a place for oil-based cakes. Devil's food is not one of them. I've never met the Devil, but I sure as heck don't think he worries about saturated fat.

This recipe starts off like most butter cakes with creaming butter and sugar, and then beating in the eggs. The kicker is combining cocoa powder with boiling water. This forms part of our wet ingredients and goes in alternately with the dry ingredients and sour cream.

I went for a simple, perfect dark chocolate ganache to finish 'er off in all its glossy glory. I let it cool and pour it all over with no direction.

That's all folks.

Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake
Makes 8-10 servings

½ cup (50g) natural or lightly Dutched cocoa powder
½ cup (118ml) boiling water
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (250g) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups (215g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup (118ml) sour cream

For the ganache:
2/3 cup (150ml) 35% whipping cream
1/8 tsp salt
170g (6oz) dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round baking pans. 

Pour  boiling water over cocoa powder in a small bowl and whisk until smooth; set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and add to creamed mixture alternately with cooled cocoa mixture and sour cream.

Divide batter evenly between prepared baking pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before inverting onto the racks to cool completely.

To make the ganach, bring cream to a gentle boil with salt in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes before stirring until smooth and glossy. Let cool to room temperature before pouring over cake layers.
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Sunday, November 9, 2014

New York-Style Sea Salt & Poppy Seed Bagels

Bagels are awesome. Who's with me?

I'm a slather-it-with-cream-cheese kinda girl most of the time.
Sometimes I fancy the loads-of-peanut-butter-and-honey at breakfast.

But when you make them from scratch and they come from the oven all warm and steamy, a knob of butter will do just fine.

There's quite a difference between Montreal-style and New York-style bagels. I like them all though - I don't discriminate.

The dough for bagels is similar to bread at its core: water, yeast, flour and sometimes salt.
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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sticky Ginger Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

November is like a baking alarm clock.

It tells me to re-stock my pantry and refresh my spice cupboard. 

I know that between now and February, most things I bake will include cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and even a bit of coriander and ground black pepper.

I'll need to have dried cranberries, dried apricots, dates, dried figs, raisins, coconut and plenty of chocolate on hand.

Ginger is all famous in seasonal baking owing to its irreplaceable role in gingerbread. It has this spicy warmth that makes winter baking feel like a giant hoodie.

I love dried, ground ginger for its really earthy flavour - different to fresh ginger which has a spicy astringency. 

Spices really make appearances in my baking all year long - a bit of cardamom in a lemon tart, a dash of cinnamon with strawberry pie, a pinch of nutmeg in crème brulee - but, these months they get a work out!
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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fudge Frosted Peanut Butter Bars

It's about that time. And if you're thinking "Peanut Butter-Chocolate" time, then you'd be right.

I never liked peanut butter as a kid. My mom used to threaten me with peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch when I gave her an obnoxious "I don't care" answer to her question, "What do you want for lunch tomorrow?"

My answer quickly changed to "proscuitto sandwich please". I must've been going through a phase. I'm sorry Mom - thank you for packing my school lunch every single day, and for writing loving messages to me via banana peel!

I eventually grew up and learned to love peanut butter. Green apple + peanut butter is crazy delicious no matter how many strange looks I get in the lunch room. Don't knock it 'till you try it - that's what I say.

These thin squares are a killer lunchbox treat. Imagine dessert meets granola bar... that's what kind of territory we're in here.
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oatmeal Pecan Dark Chocolate Cookies

Dark chocolate and nuts... nuts and dark chocolate... they're so made for each other.

Pecans are my nuts of choice in today's recipe for oatmeal cookies. They are so packed with flavour but don't normally get much attention, and are totally underused in baking.

It's rare you'll find pecans in the "mixed" nuts selection at the Pub and they're not the first thing you see in some paleo granola bar recipe.

Peanuts always make the cut at the Pub. Almonds are a health bar favourite. Cashews let vegans eat something that resembles cheesecake (plus cashews are awesome), and macadamia nuts will forever live in the white chocolate cookie at Subway.

Well, let me be a bit frank. The pecan tree doesn't grow just for Pecan Pie.
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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Caramel Custard Pumpkin Seed Pie

If we'd have to vote on the second best thing after chocolate, I think it would be a tie between caramel and peanut butter.

This recipe showcases a brand new way to bake with caramel and it turns it into a custardy gooey, gel-like texture. Think Pecan Pie filling... this is new age Pecan Pie (without the pecans).

It starts with making pastry. I'm sure you're a pro at that by now after this and this, and this to name a few.

Then we make caramel since it is the star of the show. Caramel seems daunting to some people. I was once one of them. It's like you go through a period of never getting it right - you're always left with a grainy mess and lot of frustration.

Then suddenly... you get it! It's actually not as delicate as so many people make us believe. And once you get it, you will never make grainy caramel ever again. The trick is to be confident and trust in these three facts:

1. Water works
2. Sugar can take the heat!
3. Swirled, not stirred
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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cocoa Cranberry Almond Muffins

The best thing about muffins is that they are dead easy to make.

The dodgiest thing about muffins is that they have a reputation for being healthy when most of the time they are not. They truly are the great con-artists of the baking world. A brownie could never disguise like this - sorry boys, but you're just too dang good-looking.

If you choose the blueberry muffin option for breakfast and think you're clever, I'm sorry to tell you that you're not. You just like blueberry muffins. Fair enough. The healthiest thing about them are the blueberries, hiding behind tremendous volumes of oil and sugar just like the rest. They're delicious - they're just not diet food.

This, coming from the girl who eats cookies for breakfast. I know.

These Cocoa Cranberry Almond Muffins are delicious and I've made a concious effort to sneak some good-for-you ingredients in here.
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Butterscotch Oat Bars with PB Fudge (No-Bake)

It's an in-between time for most of us right now.

In the western world, people are revving up their ovens for a season of pumpkin and apple pies. Reach to the back of your cupboard and dig up those little jars of ground clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. They're a year old now. It's time to replace them.

You probably have a couple of weeks left before outside temperatures get cool enough to warrant a long hot oven.

Over on the eastern side, Spring is in the air and the taste of Summer is very sweet. My oven works 365 days a year so a hot Summer day isn't convincing enough to push my chocolate cravings aside and won't stop me from making these brownies. But, every once in a while a care-free no bake dessert feels laid back and fancy-free.
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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dark Chocolate Cherry Tart

If you think pastry is too difficult, please reconsider.

You could make some sweet tart dough faster than it takes to find your keys and start your car, and it is WAY more rewarding than the store-bought crap. I'm sorry (I'm really not sorry). It's just crap. 

Pastry is one of those things where practice makes perfect. The more often you make it, the better you get a feel for it and the easier it gets. It's all about knowing how much to give and knowing when to stop. Kind of like telling a good story.

Once you become friends with pastry, your dessert world opens up like the sky. A pre-baked tart shell is a canvas. It can carry a million different things (food-related things, I hope).

Mascarpone and honey cream.
Vanilla bean custard.
Fresh berries.
ANY pie filling you can imagine.
Chocolate ganache... baked chocolate ganache.
Cheesecake filling.
Chocolate custard.
Dulce de leche.
Lemon curd.
Thick coconut cream.
Marshmallowy meringue.
Ooey gooey pecan pie town.
Savoury of all sorts - caramelized leek, potato, cheese, tomato, mushroom...
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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Flourless Late-night Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s not uncommon for me to bake at 10 o’clock at night.

Most of those recipes don’t make the blog since I’m too hungry and impatient to take photos.

These types of recipes are quick and efficient – 5 minute prep, no more than 7 ingredients, one bowl, one spoon, maybe a whisk…. And I can be eating whatever it is in 15 minutes.

That’s how nighttime baking rolls and I'm about to show you just how fast it can go!

You and me both know that if it's been 2 posts since I've shared a chocolate peanut butter recipe, that's 2 posts too many.

I just checked, it's been 4! Withdrawal has kicked in...

Last month I brought you Peanut Butter Cobbler Brownies.
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Nocciole (Italian Hazelnut Cookies) and some Food Science thoughts

Can we talk about chemicals today?

Seems like marketers all over the world have managed to convince everyone that anything you buy in the supermarket contains "chemicals".

Well they'd be right. Your produce aisle is full of them. Water, sugar, salt and the wonderful essential oils in the skins of oranges, lemons and limes, and the compounds in fragrant spices are chemicals.

Let's back up a bit. I'm a baker. I adore the art of making cakes, brownies, tortes, cupcakes and cookies with the finest ingredients - pure unsweetened cocoa powder, excellent Lindt chocolate, New Zealand butter and seasonal fruit (to name a few).

I'm also a Food Scientist and I spend a lot of time developing delicious and safe products for you to buy in the supermarket. I work with natural and artificial flavours, but more and more I'm only working with the natural ones. And this is driven by consumer demand. The public is telling us that they do not want "artificial colours or flavours" in their foods.

What's the difference? Artificial flavours are synthesized in a laboratory to produce all of the (sometimes hundreds) of molecules to create the perfect combination that sends signals to your brain saying "strawberry!". Natural flavours are also manufactured in a laboratory, however they contain elements that are extracted from the original food source, ie. cherry extract, strawberry extract, vanilla bean extract... 
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Chocolate Hazelnut Macaroon Squares (gluten-free)

The world of food chemistry is so fascinating, and more relate-able than one might think.

Like human chemistry, foods often go well with each other when they have something in common. There's the whole "opposites attract" thing that works once in a while, but it doesn't always last. Like those food trends that only stay around for a few months or so. Whoopie pies... really. 

I'll be the first to try the new black garlic and elderflower ice cream out of curiosity and to just plain switch it up a bit, but there will be a tub of classic Bourbon vanilla sitting in my freezer at all times. Forever and for always.
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best Double Dark Chocolate Pudding

This is for those times when I realize I have no ice cream in the house.

Big mistake. A close second to realizing there's no toilet paper in your stall when you're already squatting. Yeaaahhh....

This is my brain sequence in withdrawal mode:

                        All the shops are closed.
                                                       I have milk!
                But no more cream...
                                   Plenty of chocolate.
                                                           Eggs - of course.

Pudding will do the trick. It's cold, creamy, smooth and thick.

Pudding is custard at its core. The stuff that comes in plastic cups at the supermarket is thickened solely with corn starch, which is also what you pay for in those instant pudding packets.

Try making your own - it's gold. It's also easy and here's how to get 'er done.
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cool Confetti Faux-Fudge

There's a lot of sadness plastered all over the TV screen these days.

Seems like all news is bad news.

It's easy to lose sight of happiness in these times and I find myself wanting to stay informed but exhausted from feeling so ruined by it.

Scientifically Sweet is mainly about butter & chocolate, a little life talk and plenty of FUN. Today, I'll dig a bit deeper.

I've been reading things that are not recipes lately. My down-time reading normally doesn't extend past cookbooks and food magazines. Right now I'm onto three Jamie Oliver books (trying to catch-up), a couple of Donna Hay issues and Caramel.

In my reading, what I've learned (aside from how to make a paella in 20 minutes) is that YOU can actually control how happy YOU are?

Happiness and well-being is mostly driven by our own thoughts and behaviours. In these not-so-joyous times it is important to find joyful and positive points and focus on them. I don't mean to just think everything is always hunky dory - that's just ignorant, and people might want to punch you. But, recognize the unfortunate and then focus on the positive. It's important to constantly recover and move forward or the only direction you will go is back.
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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Peanut Butter Cobbler Brownies

There are only two thoughts going through my head right now...

1) I bet 4 sticks of celery balance out 4 pieces of brownie.

2) Hand-washing is the devil.

How can those two things occupy the same brain space?

I guess it's no surprise that thoughts of chocolate run through my head nine times out of ten.

But, you probably never guessed that thoughts of hand-washing regularly creep up in between to torment me. I hate hand-washing! But I have too many silky, lacy, beaded clothes that require a delicate touch. They end up piling up into Everest until I can no longer see the surface of my desk... they just sort of hang everywhere. Every night I say, "I'll do the hand-washing"... but I eat brownies instead.
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