Category Archives: Sweet

Easiest Chocolate Cake Ever with Speculoos Frosting

Do you feel absolutely compelled to make a baked good for every special occasion? Every birthday and baby shower and going away party? Does the feeling nag at you while you’re supposed to be working or studying, or paying attention to traffic? But where to find the time to shop for groceries, and let various crusts chill and custards set and chocolate melt? I suffer from this.

Every home baker/foodie/chef/food enthusiast needs an easy chocolate cake recipe, because you never know when you are going to check Facebook and see that you have three friends with birthdays next week.  While I’m a fan of cake mixes, those ubiquitous red cardboard boxes are a rare sighting here in Morocco, found only on the shelves of pricey foreign supermarkets, right between the soy sauce and almond milk. And besides, using a mix can sometimes feel like a failure, admit it. You want to present the birthday boy/girl, graduate, mom-to-be with a tray of cookies, or a lovely cake and say, I made it. From scratch.

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This is the easiest chocolate cake ever, and I can assure you that you will have all the ingredients in your pantry. The glaze calls for speculoos spread, but you could easily sub in peanut butter or another nut butter for equally spectacular results. This cake is moist and chocolatey without being dense, and strangely addictive- it’s easy to eat two pieces (or three or four).

The glaze is rich, sweet, and spicy so use the whole batch if you want to go really decadent (as I did) or just drizzle on half if you want to exercise some restraint.

So breathe deeply and take on that string of social occasions confidently.

Cake

Adapted from southernfood.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder or instant coffee powder (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Make 3 wells in the dry ingredients. Pour vanilla into one well, vinegar into another, and oil into the last.
  3. Pour cold water over everything and mix until there are no more dry streaks. Stir in espresso powder if using.
  4. Pour into an 8X8 square cake pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until center is set and tester comes out with just one or two crumbs (baking time may vary).
  5. Allow to cool on a rack.

Speculoos Glaze

courtesy of The First Mess

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup speculoos spread (or “cookie butter if your shopping at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup*
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 3-5 tablespoons milk (milk substitute will be fine)
  1. Mix sugar and speculoos spread until a thick paste forms.
  2. Mix in maple syrup and vanilla.
  3. Whisk in 3 tablespoons milk with a fork. If too thick, add another tablespoon. Glaze should be thick but pourable.
  4. If you want a thick layer of sweet glaze, pour onto the cooled cake and spread quickly with a spatula. Or drizzle half of the glaze onto the cake. And eat the rest with a spoon.

* I didn’t have maple syrup, but used maple extract with great success. I had to add more milk to make up for less moisture though.

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Jus de Fraise (Strawberry Juice)

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It’s strawberry season here in Morocco. Strawberries are sold by the kilo off of wooden carts piled high with the fruit, crowded into the narrow streets of the souk already bursting with produce. Vendors with hands stained red call out the price, usually equaling to about 1 dollar for a kilo. By nightfall, the mountains of strawberries dwindle to hills, prices dip, and a few stragglers (often including myself) do some late-night shopping for dessert, usually a salad with finely diced bananas, oranges, apples, and strawberries, dressed in orange juice. Locals do not dip strawberries in chocolate, and they do not eat them with biscuits and cream. These strawberries need no embellishment.

The first time I tried strawberry juice was here in Morocco, and it was a revelation. I probably drank it standing up at the counter of a mahalaba, a  shop that sells juice, sandwiches, and yogurt. Or it could have been at a local cafe in the warmer months of summer, along with a chicken briwat (a chicken filled pastry). In any case, I was instantly smitten. Strawberries have never been my favorite fruit, but blended with orange juice and drunk in a cold glass, it’s the best smoothie you’ve ever had.

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serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

 

Whole Wheat Zucchini Spice Cake with Lemon Glaze

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It may not yet be summer, but the souk is overflowing with zucchini right now, so I felt compelled to take advantage of the bounty and purchase a couple pounds this past weekend. Now faced with the age-old dilemma of zucchini overload in my crisper drawer, I find myself slicing them into omelettes, shaving them into salads, and now, grating them into cake. Zucchini cake is an ingenious strategy to consume your veggies and dessert simultaneously, so you can feel both virtuous and indulgent, which incidentally, is my preferred state of eating.

I wanted this particular loaf cake to be a bit more interesting than a simple vehicle for the ubiquitous squash, however. It shouldn’t just be cake with bits of green- it should have spice, texture, and depth of flavor. So I added whole wheat flour, ground flaxseed and walnuts, and ginger, cinnamon, and coriander, and finished it with a crunchy lemon glaze. It was delicious on day one, even better on days two and three, when the flavors had time to meld. Lemony, slightly spicy, not-too-sweet, and a little hearty, this cake is ideal for afternoon tea or coffee, when you might crave donuts but feel like you should be eating carrot sticks.

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Makes one 9×5 loaf.

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed

For the glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • juice of one medium lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees f. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan and dust lightly with flour.
  2. Whisk together egg, sugars, vanilla, oil, and lemon zest in large bowl. Stir in grated zucchini.
  3. Whisk flours, spices, and salt in a separate bowl.
  4. Sprinkle baking soda over wet mixture and stir to combine.
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture gradually, whisking as you go. Mix until just combined.
  6. Stir in walnuts and flaxseed. Batter will be very thick.
  7. Spoon into loaf pan, smooth the top with a spatula or large spoon, and bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, or until tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes on wire rack and invert.
  8. Since this cake is better on day two, I would wait until the second day to glaze, but if you can’t wait, at least wait until the cake is completely cool. Stir together the powdered sugar and lemon juice with a fork and drizzle over the cake in horizontal lines. The glaze should be pretty thick and just barely pourable.

Lemon Curd

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Lemons are normally a staple in my kitchen. I use lemon juice to make salad dressing and add zing to soup, and lemon zest to cut sweetness in cakes, glazes, even cookies. In the past, I purchased a tidy bag of lemons at Trader Joe’s every week, but here in Morocco, this ubiquitous citrus fruit is not always so abundant. At the peak of summer for example, the marketplace is bursting with figs and peaches, but lemons are harder to come by, given that fruits and vegetables are actually available according to season.

Because it’s February, I feel I’ve got to take advantage of the bounty of winter citrus in the souk. Last year, some French friends of my roommate gave us a jar of homemade lemon curd, and I thought how French, to casually whip up some creme au citron to spread on your morning baguette. It turned out to be exceptionally delicious, spread on toast, mixed into coconut yogurt, eaten with a spoon out of the jar. And with a little research, I realized that it is also simple to make. I made lemon curd yesterday morning to eat with fresh cheese and bread, a perfect accompaniment to my Saturday brunch. Bon appetit.

*note: I felt I could trust Martha (Stewart), so I used her recipe. It makes quite a small amount (about a cup), so you might want to double it for a family.

Ingredients:

  • 3 egg yolks*
  • zest from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Combine all ingredients in small saucepan and whisk to combine. Set over medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon ( 5-6 minutes).

2. Take off the heat, continuing to stir, and whisk in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until smooth. Scoop into a small bowl and place plastic wrap (or a clear plastic bag) over the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Leave in the refrigerator for 1 hour (or 45 minutes, if you’re as impatient as I am). Can be refrigerated for 2-3 days.

* I have found the easiest way to separate the yolk from the egg is to crack the egg  in two and pour the yolk back and forth between the halves over a bowl until the white has drizzled out. Use leftover whites for an especially healthy omelette, or an especially delicious batch of meringues.

Semolina Biscotti with Dates and Walnuts

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Too often, we hear “biscotti” and we think of those plastic-wrapped, rock-hard cookies sold on coffee chain counters across America. But this beloved Italian cookie is not to be overshadowed by ungainly drop cookies. Homemade biscotti are toasty and sophisticated, able to withstand dunking in coffee or tea, but tender enough to be eaten on their own.

I discovered these biscotti my first winter in Morocco, during which I drank endless glasses of hot mint tea. Needing a companion to dip in my beverage, I decided to make cookies with dates, walnuts, and semolina flour, all ingredients found in abundance in my neighborhood souk. Moroccans would never chop up dates to put in cookies, but this aberration was a revelation- slightly crisp, with pockets of chewy sweetness and crunch, they have a heartier texture from the semolina flour. Plus, they mix up in one bowl, and are easily adaptable. I can imagine adding orange zest, pistachio, chunks of dark chocolate, or drizzling glaze on top. No need for a special occasion to bake these biscotti. Your afternoon coffee will thank you.

Recipe adapted from http://www.King Arthur Flour.com (golden semolina biscotti)

Makes 15 large biscotti.

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups AP flour
  • 1/3 cup semolina flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  1.  Grease a baking sheet. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Stir together the melted butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla until blended well. Stir in the eggs one at a time, then blend in the flour and semolina until just mixed. Stir in the chopped dates and walnuts with wooden spoon.
  3. Scoop out the dough and shape into a 10 x 4 inch log. The log will spread as it bakes, so make sure there is room on either side. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. Cool for 1 hour.
  4. Slice the log on the diagonal into 1/2 -3/4 wide inch pieces. Place the biscotti on a clean baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on the sheet.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting and Toasted Pecans

I think there is something distinctly special about a layer cake. Layer cakes can’t be whipped together in an hour, or mixed in one bowl, or toted easily to the park for an impromptu picnic. They take time and a little planning, and they are usually made for a special event- weddings, birthdays, anniversaries. Layer cakes are not cut into pieces and laid on a plate. They arrive, with precarious height, do-not-touch peaks of icing, and in this case, rivulets of salted caramel.

Two layers of moist chocolate cake made with coffee and buttermilk are encased in a salted caramel frosting  and filled with chopped toasted pecans and caramel. And of course, drizzled with more caramel and decorated with toasted pecan halves. I have to give due credit to my coworker and friend Beatrice for inspiring this one: she suggested I make a turtle cake. It’s got the slight crunch and caramel-y decadence of the candy with the lavish proportions of a cake meant for celebration.

Chocolate Cake

(courtesy of Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter (or use cooking spray) to grease two 8-inch round pans*. Line with parchment paper (to do this, fold sheet of parchment in half, and then in half again. Using the bottom of the pan as a guide, trace and cut the square into a quarter-circle- when you unfold, you should have a circle the size of the pan). Grease the parchment and sides of pan again.
  2. Beat together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with an electric mixer at low speed. Whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Slowly beat the wet mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated, and then slowly beat in the hot coffee until fully incorporated.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 30 minutes, and then- very carefully- invert the cakes onto a rack to cool and peel off the parchment (if you want to be extra careful, run a knife around the edge of the pans before inverting). Keep oven on if you plan on toasting the pecans.
* you may choose to use one or both of the layers; I used one.
Salted Caramel Frosting + Pecan topping
(frosting courtesy of bakedbree.com)
Ingredients:
  • 2 sticks room temperature butter
  • 1 brick (8 oz) room temperature cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup salted caramel + 3 tablespoons (I bought a jar at Trader Joe’s- you could also make your own)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup pecan halves 
  1. Turn oven down to 250 degrees. Spread pecans evenly over a baking sheet lined with foil. When oven is heated, toast pecans for 5-8 minutes, turning once or twice during baking. Be careful- these will burn easily. When pecans are finished, remove from the oven, allow to cool, and set aside 8 pecan halves. Chop the remainder into fine pieces.
  2. In the meanwhile, cream together butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer.
  3. Pour in the salted caramel and beat until combined.
  4. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Add milk as needed, as I found the frosting to be very stiff. Beat for a few minutes- the more air, the better!
Assembly
  1. Set aside one cake layer to freeze or use later (or alternatively you could use both cake layers to make an extra tall cake- I prefer mine on the more petite side- in any case, you will have enough frosting for both layers).
  2. Place the other layer on a cake round or plate, so that the flat bottom of the cake is facing up. Using a serrated knife, slice the layer in half (insert the knife in about 1 inch; using your hand to turn the cake, saw around the edge of the cake several times, inserting knife in further an inch at a time). Remove the top layer carefully and set aside.
  3. Using a small offset spatula, or small rubber spatula, dollop a generous amount of frosting on the top and spread the frosting outward in small circular motions. Continue adding more frosting until layer is covered. Using a spoon, drizzle 2 tablespoons of salted caramel (or more if you wish!) evenly over the frosting. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over the top. Place second layer over the top.
  4. Now for the “crumb coating”. Use a small spatula to spread frosting in a very thin layer over entire cake. This layer should catch any crumbs that would mar the final coating of frosting. Wait 20 minutes to 1 hour before spreading on the remainder of the frosting over the sides and top of the cake (if you only used 1 layer like I did, you should have plenty of leftover frosting. Sandwich cookies anyone?)
  5. Place 8 toasted pecans halves evenly around the perimeter of the cake. Using a fork and a little bit of caramel at a time, very carefully and slowly drizzle caramel across the top of the cake.


Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies with Baileys Glaze

Though I live in Boston- the veritable epicenter of St. Patrick’s Day festivities in America (and maybe the world)- I didn’t celebrate the holiday with the prerequisite green beer and beads this past weekend. Instead I made pizza and drank wine with a few close friends. A let-down to my heritage? Maybe. Embarrassing to admit publicly? Only if you think so. I did, however, acknowledge St. Patrick with a nip of Baileys, the sweet milky liqueur redolent of coffee and toasted nuts.

I always feel pizza and wine necessitate chocolate, so I decided to make brownies and drizzle them generously with a boozy glaze, courtesy of my little nip of Baileys. I usually use a box mix for brownies, but I wanted to make them from scratch this time, so I used a recipe from Matt Lewis of Baked bakery in Brooklyn (which I discovered via Martha Stewart).

These bars are rich but not gooey, with a barely-crisp top and moist center. They taste of cocoa, butter, and of course, the famous Irish liqueur, and get even better after a couple days. If you have Baileys left over from your own celebration, consider making a batch- or at the very least make the glaze and look to Betty Crocker for the rest. Cheers.

Ingredients: Brownies 

(marthastewart.com)

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, plus more for pan
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (again, I used Ghirardelli)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light-brown sugar (I used dark-brown sugar)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used 2 ounces of chopped semisweet Ghirardelli chocolate)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 by 8 inch pan, line with parchment paper, and butter paper (you could probably skip this, but it makes lifting the bars out a lot easier).
  2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combine butter and espresso powder in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat. Stir until butter has melted.
  4. Add chocolate, and stir until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and stir in both sugars until well-combined.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla and keep stirring until mixture is smooth. Sift in flour and stir until just combined. Do not overmix! Stir in chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.
  6. Pour batter into pan and use a spatula to smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 26-28 minutes. Let cool on wire rack.
  7. Drizzle with glaze (recipe follows). I dipped a spoon into the glaze and slowly waved spoon above the pan to make “stripes”. I like to do this in stages, allowing 5 or so minutes to pass between each time I drizzle, so that I can layer more and more glaze while maintaining the stripe effect.
  8. I cut my brownies into long “fingers” (I think the finger shape is more conducive to perfect bites, and looks especially aesthetically pleasing with the stripes of glaze; glaze and cut as you wish). If you choose this shape, the pan will make 12-14 bars. Serve with milk, or alternatively, more Baileys.
Ingredients (glaze)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more if needed
  • 3-4 tablespoons Baileys
  1. Pour powdered sugar into small bowl. Pour a couple tablespoons Baileys into sugar and mix with a fork  or whisk, adding more Baileys to make a glaze that slowly drips off a spoon.