Saturday, February 28, 2009

February Daring Bakers Challenge: Chocolate Valentino Cake

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Oh, man. If you love chocolate, this is the dessert for you. It's rich, smooth, velvety, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Simply divine.

This was the dessert I made for my hubby on Valentine's Day that I mentioned in this post. My husband even broke out into dance and song... I kid you not. And then he said it was better than the chocolate souffle at one of our favorite gourmet restaurants in town. So, it gets pretty high praises! Make sure you use really good chocolate, since it is the main ingredient. I use Guittard Semi Sweet, but use what you love.

Another part of the challenge was to make homemade ice cream to go with the cake. The ice cream is almost essential to "cut through" the richness of all that chocolate.Since the valentino is so simple, I decided to take it up a notch and tackle salted butter caramel ice cream. As you might already suspect by the lack of the ice cream's appearance in the photo, it did not turn out well. For some reason, it wouldn't set up, no matter how long I churned it. Hopefully, I'll have better luck next time.

Chocolate Valentino (aka Flourless Chocolate Cake)


16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated


1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C. Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

It is vital to the success of the cake that you not overbeat your egg whites, and also that you do not deflate them at the folding stage. Also, you do not have to use a heart shaped pan. I think a standard 8 or 9 inch cake pan would work, or you could also use ramekins to make individual cakes.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dark Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Warning: If you bake these cookies for family or friends, they may beg you incessantly to make them again.

I baked these to bring for the worship team, childcare workers, and staff at my church yesterday. I got lots of compliments! These really just came out of a desire to bake and I used whatever I had in my pantry. These cookies were totally gobbled up and described as "ridiculous". Not really sure what that means, but I think that's good!

I have to give all the credit to Jenny over at Picky Palate. I used her recipe for Send Me to the Milky Way cookies as my "base", and just added whatever I had in the pantry as mix-ins. It always works out great and yields a delicious, chewy cookie. Feel free to experiment with this recipe yourself!

A few more tips... I always underbake my cookies a little bit by using the minimum time given in the recipe. They will look "doughy" in the center, but after they sit on the cooling rack for it bit, they become the perfect consistency (at least to me). Finally, my last "secret" is really good vanilla. I swear by it, and it makes the biggest difference in all of my baked goods.

Dark Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
Cookie base recipe adapted from Picky Palate


  • 2 sticks softened butter
  • ¾ Cup sugar
  • ¾ Cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ¾ Cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt (you may want to cut this to 1/4 if your macadamias are salted like mine were)
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (I used Guittard semi sweet chips and Nestle Chocolate Chunks, since that's what I had in my pantry)
  • 1 cup chopped salted Macadamia nuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a stand or electric mixer cream the butter and sugars. Beat in eggs and vanilla until well combined, scraping edges with a spatula. In a separate large bowl combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly add to wet ingredients along with the chocolate and nuts.

2. With a medium cookie scoop, scoop onto a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 9-11 minutes, or until cooked to your preference. Let cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet then transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dinner for My Valentine

This Valentine's Day, I decided to keep it simple. On Christmas Eve, I planned an elaborate dinner - which was great - it just left me in the kitchen all day and tired. So, for this holiday, I decided to keep things easy and delicious. I saw this Fettucini Alfredo recipe from the blog Life's Ambrosia ( on Tastespotting, and thought it was just perfect. Easy, yet decadent. A treat for both me and my husband. Served with some crusty garlic bread and a salad, this meal truly hit the spot and left us feeling spoiled. You could add some grilled chicken or shrimp to add some protein to the meal. There was also a very decadent, rich, dessert at the end, but that will have to wait until later - it was my Daring Bakers Challenge for the month and can't be posted right now. But trust me, it will be worth the wait and a wonderful addition to your baking arsenal - my husband was singing it's praises (literally).

Fettucini Alfredo
adapted from Life's Ambrosia


1 pound fettuccine pasta (I used Buitoni fresh pasta)
1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley


Bring a pot of water to boil, liberally salt the water and add pasta. Cook about 7-9 minutes (or 2 minutes if using fresh pasta). Strain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. The pasta will be slightly underdone but it will finish cooking in the sauce.
Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat in a pan large enough to fit the pasta once cooked. Add the garlic and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the pasta to the pan. Pour cream and cheese over the pasta. Toss to completely coat the pasta. Cook 2-3 (or 1-2 if using fresh pasta) minutes. Add the parsley. Reduce heat to low, let pasta stand 5 minutes until sauce thickens. Toss just before serving.

And now, I have to do just a little bragging on my hubby. Friday evening I arrived home after a double date with some good friends of ours to this:

Beautiful red roses, a cute little teddy bear, a sweet note, and some delicious chocolates. :) I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Strawberry Banana Oatmeal

To me, there are few breakfasts more comforting than a steaming bowl of oatmeal or cream of wheat. This definitely wasn't the case when I was a kid - I thought my dad was "really mean" for forcing me to eat a bowl of oatmeal (or some other kind of hearty, hot breakfast) before school in the mornings.

Flash forward to adulthood - I would usually take packets of oatmeal to work every day for breakfast. And while there's nothing really wrong with that, I was always displeased with the fact that it was full of sugar and/or preservatives; and also that it took more than one packet to fill me up. Now, at the inspiration of other food blogs, I have started making my own oats in the morning, and have found it to be very easy, quick, convenient, and delicious! I also love that it's nourishing and good for me, and that it sticks with me until lunch. It takes about five minutes to prepare in the morning, and I pack it up in a Gladware bowl and bring it to work with me to eat.

Sarah's Strawberry Banana Oatmeal

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 banana, mashed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 3-4 strawberries, sliced

You can prepare your oats one of two ways: one the stovetop, or in the microwave. I usually do mine in the microwave for quickness and so I don't have a dirty pot to clean. Just combine your oats, pinch of salt, and your liquid in a bowl, and microwave it for 2 minutes or so, or according to package directions. If your oats are too thick, stir in a little bit more milk or water. Add your vanilla, honey, and mashed banana, and stir. Top with sliced strawberries. Enjoy!


Make sure to follow the package directions for your liquid-to-oats ratio. I sometimes buy Irish oats, and they use a little bit more water than my regular rolled oats do. Feel free to use all water or all milk if you like. I use half water, half milk so that I still get the creaminess that the milk adds without all of the calories.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ina Garten's Lemon Pound Cake

One of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen (, says this cake is one of the "top 10 that all good bakers should have in their repetoire". After making this, I can definitely agree! It's perfectly moist and the flavors are wonderfully balanced - it's not too tart, yet not too sweet. The hardest thing about making this cake was zesting all the lemons, and then waiting for it to finish baking and cooling. It's even better if you let it sit overnight, so that the lemon simple syrup distributes itself thoroughly through the cake. It travels well and would make a great gift for someone. Another wonderful thing about this recipe is that it makes 2 cakes. I took one of mine to a Bible study one night, then the next I took the other to a friends house for dinner. I served it with fresh raspberries and vanilla ice cream. If you are a veteran baker, or even if you're looking for a recipe that's great to try as a novice baker, this one is for you.

Lemon Pound Cake
Adapted from ”Barefoot Contessa Parties!” by Ina Garten


  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8 1/2-by-4 1/4-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans, and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and 2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Mixing at medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, and lemon zest.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, buttermilk and vanilla. Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to butter and sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Divide batter evenly between pans, smooth tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
4. Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan, and cook over low heat until sugar dissolves.
5. When cakes are done, let them cool 10 minutes. Invert them onto a rack set over a tray, and spoon lemon syrup over cakes. Let cakes cool completely.
6. For glaze, combine confectioners’ sugar and remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a whisk until smooth. Pour over top of cakes, and allow glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Yield: 2 cakes.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

This is one of the side dishes I made for my hubby and I's Christmas Eve dinner. And let me tell you, it was delicious. If you don't like brussels sprouts (like my husband), trust me - you'll love this. But what's not to love? The sprouts are drowned in a silky cream sauce and studded with savory bits of proscuitto.

Got a special occasion coming up? Make this. Your friends, family, and your tummy will thank you. Your hips won't. But trust me, its worth it!


  • 2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Roasted Garlic, recipe follows
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus 1/2 cup
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel off any damaged outer layers of Brussels sprouts. Trim the stem to make it flush. Quarter each sprout and score the stem on each quarter with a 1/4-inch-deep "X."
Saute the prosciutto in the butter over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and Brussels sprouts and stir continuously for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour and continue stirring for 2 minutes. Add the cream, half-and-half, and sherry. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then reduce the heat and continue simmering for 7 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by 1/3. Stir in the 1 cup of Parmesan, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish. Cover with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Roasted Garlic:

  • 1 head garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut off the papery tip of the garlic head, exposing the top of each garlic clove. Brush the exposed cloves with olive oil.
Place the garlic, root side down, on the center of a piece of aluminum foil. Bundle the garlic with the foil, leaving a small vent on top. Roast the garlic for 45 minutes or until the cloves turn beige and are fork tender. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.
Squeeze the garlic head upside down over a small bowl and the cloves will pop out.
Refrigerate for up to 1 week.