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Archive for March, 2008

Perfect Party Cake gone Chocolate

This entry is dedicated to all Daring Bakers for making the challenges and the group itself lots of fun!! Special thanks to Morven for hosting this month’s challenge.

At first I was a bit skeptical about this cake challenge since it was pushing me far away from my culinary comfort zone. The horror stories I grew up around were terrifying enough – threatening all of us about how even granules of sugar in either direction can ruin the precise scientific integrity of a cake. However, when I got around to reading this month’s challenge in further detail I realized that the possibilities for executing the cake were literally endless; so I took on the daring baker attitude and approached the task with an open mind (and a chocolate heart).

mise en place

In order for the cake flavors to go well with the newly introduced chocolate, I made some minor changes in the flavor department by substituting the lemon zest with orange zest and the lemon extract for orange liquor. The chocolate-orange combo is a classic and was fantastic in the cake. Otherwise, I prepared the cake as intended and folded the chocolate additions towards the end.

and the chocolate makeover begins

Once the chocolate batter was complete, I baked the cake for only 8-10 minutes because I used a sheet pan rather than the 9” cake rounds (which I don’t own).
Since this was my first Daring Baker Challenge, I wanted to make these cakes extra special by decorating them with piped chocolate designs. They’re a lot easier to make than they seem and they add a nice touch to the finished product. All it is, is melted chocolate piped onto a chilled sheet tray lined with parchment paper.

pretty chocolate

I was not too happy with the way my buttercream turned out, but that may just be the psychological side effect of knowing that there were 3 sticks of butter in it. Once all the pieces were ready, I assembled everything into individual cakes and covered each with a thin layer of fondant for decoration.

Perfect Party Cake

modified from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe

For the Cake


  • 2½ cups, cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. grated orange zest
  • ½ tsp. orange liquor
  • 2.5 oz. cocoa powder (Scharffen Berger)
  • 3 oz. melted chocolate (Scharffen Berger)
  • ¼ cup hot water

Putting them all together

  1. Butter a 17in x 11in baking sheet and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Beat egg whites and sugar in a medium bowl. Mix together sugar and orange zest in another bowl.
  4. Cream butter and sugar and add orange liquor.
  5. Mix in 1/3 of the dry ingredients followed by ½ of the wet ingredients and continue adding in an alternating fashion until everything is incorporated.
  6. Mix together melted chocolate, cocoa powder and boiling water and fold into cake batter.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until a toothpick comes out dry.

For the Buttercream


  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 12 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Putting them all together

  1. Whisk sugar and egg whites over a double boiler for 3 minutes, until hot to the touch.
  2. Remove from double boiler and continue whisking until slightly cooled, approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Add butter one stick at a time, beating until smooth before adding the next.
  4. On medium speed slowly add the lemon juice and continue beating until glossy and well incorporated, approximately 6-10 minutes.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and set aside until ready to use.

For Finishing


  • 2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves
  • melted chocolate for designs
  • fondant for covering

Putting them all together

  1. Stir raspberry preserves vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable.
  2. Make chocolate designs by piping melted chocolate onto a chilled baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. Cover with ready-made rolled fondant.


cakes are meant to be eaten

Goat Milk is King

This entry is dedicated to my cousins Dina and Yasmin (aka Rita), my Aunt Kiki and the rest of the family who showed me such an amazing time while I was visiting the Middle East, shukran jazeelan!!

In the Middle East, goat milk is king. It’s rich and tangy, and has a lot less lactose than cow milk. Although I don’t use goat milk in my cereal or for dunking cookies, when it comes to cooking, goat milk is phenomenal. I find it has a much deeper and sharper taste than cow’s milk, and it adds an authentic flavor when used in Middle Eastern recipes.

While I was travelled in the Middle East, I enjoyed strolling through the different outdoor markets (souks) and admiring how store owners were true artisans of their culinary crafts. It was just as I remembered it in Aladdin, only it was real and even more chaotic. Markets were divided into categories such as meats, spices, nuts, dairy and so forth, creating the perfect competition necessary for bargaining.

a peak into the future

Every morning my aunt and I enjoyed a variety of mezze while watching her favorite news anchor read the daily horoscope. A few of the neighbors would stop by for Turkish coffee, served with a side of gossip, and they took turns reading each others coffee cups. This is a popular pastime among women in the Middle East.

Aside from all the amazing memories I’ve created from my travels, I also made sure to inquire about every single recipe that crossed my plate. Labne, which is essentially strained yogurt, was one of those recipes. Making the yogurt from scratch with the freshest goat milk will yield a more authentic product, but this recipe is versatile and adapts well to regular cow’s milk, or even sheep’s milk.

from milk to yogurt

If you are in need of a (relatively quick) labne fix, you could always strain store-bought plain yogurt. And if you could get your hands on goat yogurt, even better. However, for the food aficionados and for those those looking for some culinary therapy, take the scenic route and make your own yogurt at home.

Once you’ve made your yogurt as directed on the package of your preferred yogurt starter, refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

straining the yogurt

I gave up on cheese cloths a long time ago and started using a clean undershirt to strain my yogurt. It’s a lot cheaper, it’s reusable and you could fit a lot more yogurt per batch. However you decide to strain your yogurt is up to you, but make sure to stir salt into the yogurt before setting aside to strain (approximately ½ tsp. of salt per cup of yogurt).

labne (لبنة)

Labne (strained yogurt)

(yields approx. 2½ cups)


  • 2 quarts of milk, preferably goat
  • 10 g. yogurt starter (2 packs)
  • 4 tsp. salt (½ tsp. per cup of yogurt)
  • dried mint
  • Hungarian paprika
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • toasted pita bread or pita chips

Putting them all together

  1. Make yogurt as instructed by the package and refrigerate.
  2. Stir salt into yogurt and pour into your straining cloth of choice.
  3. Strain for approximately 12 hours or until you’ve reached a sour cream consistency.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  5. To plate, sprinkle with dried mint, Hungarian paprika and drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil. Serve with pita bread or pita chips.


What’s life without the occasional dunk?

This entry is dedicated to Anna (Grazie Cosmos), my host mom from Florence and Queen of Tuscan Cuisine: Grazie di tutto l’aiuto che mi hai dato in cucina e di tutte le meravigliose ricette che hai condiviso con me.

Biscotti, literally translated, means twice-cooked in Italian. This crunchy confection of sheer goodness formed a significant part of my diet while I was in Florence this past winter. Undoubtedly, it is a cookie worth blogging about.

Upon my arrival, my host mom had prepared what seemed like an endless batch of her signature almond biscotti, piled them high in a bowl and set them on the kitchen counter for me to snack on. Soon after, the bowl had become a rite of passage for me as I was incapable of making it in or out of the kitchen without munching on one and grabbing a couple for later. Each time reassuring myself with the blissful nutritional fact that these addicting cookies contain no butter and are packed full of health benefits. At any rate, the seemingly endless supply quickly dwindled to a mere dozen. That very morning (no joke), my host mom noticed the depleted supply and immediately insisted on whipping me up another batch. Of course, I couldn’t refuse, so I rolled up my sleeves and offered to help.

Making biscotti with Grazie Cosmos

Anna’s expertise was obvious and quite impressive as she confidently poured the ingredients out onto the counter without hesitation or measuring utensils. She reassured me that after hundreds of batches I’ll begin to get the hang of it; in the mean time I’ve resorted to my awesome kitchen scale for incredible precision each time.

the well method

The well method pops up everywhere in cooking and quite frankly, I’m a huge fan. Anything that gifts me with one less dish to wash is a blessing. Plus, it rewards you with the distinct sense of authenticity that you’ll appreciate in each bite of your homemade biscotti. Definitely well worth the messy hands!

logs of dough

Once your dough comes together into a smooth ball, you’re set. Shape the dough into two long logs and bake until they are firm enough to slice (approx. 12-14 minutes). Slicing them right out of the oven is easiest, and a serrated knife makes your task a synch. Bake them a second time for 7-9 minutes and prepare yourself for some obsessive biscotti consumption!

biscotti con café

One of the great qualities these biscotti share is their remarkable versatility. Pairing them with a hot cup of joe is considered perfection for many of us, but these cookies go well with almost anything. Tuscans traditionally enjoy these biscotti with a glass of vin santo, an Italian dessert wine, to accentuate their sweet flavor.

biscotti con latte

For me, a handful of biscotti and a tall icy glass of milk is my favorite way to start my day (continue my day, and end my day, too). The kid in me wouldn’t have it any other way besides dunking – so dunk I did. It was not a trivial skill to acquire as any seasoned dunker can easily attest to. Prolong your dunk and the structural integrity of the cookie is compromised, but withdraw prematurely and the mission fails. Let me part with some words of encouragement for the aspiring dunker: clear your calendar, double the recipe and let your inner-child dunk.

biscotti alle mandorle

Biscotti alle Mandorle (Biscotti with Almonds)

(yields approx. 24 cookies)


  • 275 g flour, approx 2 cups
  • 225 g granulated sugar, approx 1 cup + 2 tbsp
  • zest of 2-3 lemons
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp anise, ground (optional)
  • 200 g raw almonds, approx 1 1/3 cups
  • 3 eggs

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. On a clean work surface create a well by mixing together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.
  3. Add the eggs to the center of the well, and slowly mix them into the dry ingredients. Once the mix begins to resemble a dough, add the almonds and shape into a smooth ball.
  4. Shape into two long logs and bake for 12-14 minutes or until firm enough to slice. While hot, slice the logs horizontally (best with a serrated knife) to form mini-biscotti.
  5. Bake again for 7-9 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

Note: This is a very sticky dough. Make sure to have some extra flour on hand to form the dough into logs.