Monday, October 14, 2013

three-nuts chocolate torte

Dear readers, I fly to Japan tomorrow!

I am going for two weeks with my mother, as part of a cultural exchange between my home town of Kelowna and Kasugai in Japan. Even though I have now checked into my flight and my bags are packed, I can still hardly believe it.

I will tell you all about it when I get back. But in the meantime, I wanted to share this heavenly new cake recipe with you. My co-worker Portia shared it with me after everyone at work raved about it.

They were right to rave. It's originally from Jamie Oliver, and it's kind of like a flourless chocolate cake with lots of nuts in it. His original recipe calls for just almonds and walnuts, but I find it difficult not to add hazelnuts to chocolate – it's the German in me  so in they went.

(I do believe you could stick with his original version of 150 g. walnuts and 150 g. almonds and also be quite happy).

You whiz everything together in the food processor and end up with a thick but light batter from all those whipped egg whites.

The batter bakes into a substantial cake that's moist and dense with nuts and rich with chocolate. And, of course, lovely with a dollop of hazelnut-scented whip cream on the side.

I might note that if you don't like pumpkin pie, it also makes a fine Thanksgiving dessert. (Which I tested for you yesterday, just to make sure.)


one year ago: 27 hours in saskatoon and homemade ricotta cheese
two years ago: quince almond cake and roasted beet risotto
three years ago: pear ginger jam

three-nuts chocolate torte
slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver

100 g. peeled almonds
100 g. walnuts
100 g. mostly-peeled hazelnuts*
300 g. dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher), broken into rough pieces
1 tsp. cocoa powder, heaped + cocoa for dusting the pan
255 g. butter, at room temperature
100 g. fine sugar or caster sugar
6 large egss, separated
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Choose an 8 or 10-inch cake pan (preferably spring-form) and line the bottom with parchment paper. Then butter the bottom and sides, and dust with cocoa. Set it on a cookie sheet, in case a little bit of butter weeps out while it's baking.

Put the nuts in a food processor and whiz until finely ground. Add the chocolate and cocoa, and whiz another 30 seconds to break the chocolate up. Spoon it out of the food processor and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar in the food processor until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, then mix in the chocolate and nut mixture. Set aside in a separate, large bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the big bowl of chocolate-nut-butter mixture. Pour it all into the prepared pan.

Bake about 40  45 minutes for an 8-inch pan, possibly 35  40 for a 10-inch pan. You want this cake to be moist, so trust your nose! You should also stick a cake pin tester into the cake for 5 seconds and have it come out clean when it's ready.

Let cool before serving.

hazelnut whip cream

500 ml. whipping cream
3 tbsp. fine or caster sugar
3 tbsp. Frangelico or hazelnut liqueur

Beat the cream with the sugar and liqueur until it's puffy. Serve a big dollop with each slice of cake.

* You might need to roast the hazelnuts to get much of their peels off if you can't buy them peeled.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

leek gratin

I tend to go a bit leek crazy.

Whenever I see them at the farm or the farmers' market, their white curly ends and smooth white-to-green stalks pull me in. I hand over my money and I'm suddenly filling my wrinkled cloth bag with bunches and bunches of leeks.

Their dark green tops peek out the top of the bag and look so cheerful on the way home.

But once in the fridge  once I've cleared a whole shelf in the fridge because, let's face it, leeks are not small vegetables  it's a different story.

Their leaves get a bit wilted and I remember how much work it is to wash all that pesky dirt out of leeks. In short, I feel overwhelmed by a vegetable.

Luckily, I stumbled onto this recipe last summer at just such a time.

It's from Beyond the Plate and it only has four ingredients: leeks, heavy cream, freshly-ground nutmeg and gruyère cheese.

I was a bit dubious, until I read that Danielle's husband learned the recipe in Switzerland. Really, that was enough. If anyone knows how to make gratin, I believe it would be the Swiss.

And they do. And now I do. And so will you, if you make this.

The technique is brilliant: simmer the heavy cream and a bit of the leek cooking water down until it's thick and pre-gratin-y (that is a new word I just made up!). Stir in a good amount of nutmeg, season it with salt and pepper, coat the tender leeks with the sauce and cover it all with a good lid of gruyère cheese.

This bubbles and burbles in the oven and the gruyère blisters into brown caramelized goodness and 


The leek magic is realized and there is suddenly nothing else I would rather eat. I reassure myself that buying bunches and bunches of leeks was actually a very wise decision, and I dig in.

P.S. Thanksgiving is coming, and I do believe this would be a show-stopper side dish on your Thanksgiving table. Just sayin'.

Thanksgiving ideas: turnip puff, tarragon three-bean salad, creamy celeriac soup and rosemary corn butter
one year ago: beet salad with honey-horseradish dressing
two years ago: star anise plum jam
three years ago: finally yummy brussels sprouts

leek gratin
via beyond the plate

 about 1 kg. (2  2 1/2 lbs) leeks*
1 1/2 c. whipping cream
2 tsp. ground nutmeg or as much freshly-ground nutmeg as you can bear grating
salt and pepper
1 1/5 c. gruyère cheese, grated

First, start by preparing your leeks. Trim the end off each, then cut discs about 3 cm (1 inch) thick. The first couple disks will be white. After that, cut off a layer of green leaf and rinse it for each disc. This will keep the pesky dirt hiding in the leek away from your gratin and help make sure you're using the tender part of the leek.

Put the leeks in a pot with enough water to cover. Stir in a big pinch of coarse sea salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer the leeks uncovered for 5 minutes. Take 1/4 c. of the cooking water out of the pot and set it aside. Drain the leeks and set aside.

Pour the whipping cream and reserved leek water into a wide skillet. Bring to a good simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Over approximately the next 30 minutes, the cream will thicken and get a bit clumpy. When it's sufficiently thickened, the bubbles will have more trouble breaking through and it will look like there's a layer of cream around the circumference. (See photo.)

While you are waiting for the cream to thicken, chop the leeks into quarter-discs.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

One the cream has thickened, add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the leeks and keep stirring until they're well coated. Turn the heat off and spoon your creamy leek mixture into a casserole dish (preferably a wider dish than the one I used above). Use the back of the spoon to even it out in the dish. Toss on the cheese to cover the creamy leeks. Bake for 20  30 minutes, or until the gratin becomes golden brown.

Let it rest on a rack for 10 minutes before serving.

* Leeks come in wildly different sizes. One kilogram could equal anywhere from 2 very large leeks to 7 smaller leeks. Try to weigh them at the store so you know what you're dealing with.