Monday, June 30, 2014

50 Ways to Love Your Basil
What’s cooking? Lemon-Basil Sorbet and Strawberries in Lemon Syrup

Okay, so maybe not 50. But a lot.

My friend Ellen in Pennsylvania sent me a note recently asking for some new ideas for basil. It’s early in the growing season, but she already has a bumper crop of the stuff, and has made all the pesto she can tolerate. I get that. You start out with a couple of small plants, thinking how darling they are and wondering if maybe you should have bought more and how you can hardly wait until they’re big enough to really enjoy. Sort of like children: in the beginning, you can’t really do much more than watch them and feed them; then before you know it, they’re huge and completely unruly and taking up way more space than you ever expected. Fortunately, with the basil, you can pinch them back.

As you may know, the Kitchen Goddess loves all the weird research you can do on the internet, and she has found the following (none personally tested) possibilities:

 - A poultice of crushed basil leaves will relieve wasp stings.
 - Chew a few basil leaves to eliminate garlic breath.
 - Basil is apparently a muscle relaxer, so chewing basil leaves also helps ward off a migraine.
 - Basil tea, made by steeping 5-8 basil leaves in hot water for 5-10 minutes, is also supposed to help relieve nausea or a headache.
 - And best of all, the aroma of fresh basil – a strong clove scent – is supposed to be a mood lifter, so you might want to keep a small pot of it in your kitchen all the time!

Back to the Food

Enough of these snake oil salesman ideas. The Kitchen Goddess loves basil, and could wax eloquent on the stuff at the drop of a hat. Instead, I’ll just remind you of a few recipes (with links) featuring basil that have appeared in Spoon & Ink. Then we’ll get on to today’s delicious dessert idea.

My own recipe for basil pesto (click here), is excellent – and beautiful – on grilled cauliflower steaks, the recipe for which you’ll find if you click here.

Here’s a wine-basil gelée that goes awesomely with watermelon sorbet, and it keeps forever in your fridge. I froze the leftover gelée and ate it like a granita. Click here for Watermelon Sorbet with Wine-Basil Gelée.


Last summer, I made lemon-basil butter cookies (click here) that I served with plumcot sorbet, although you could serve them with any ice cream or sorbet. They have a lovely, slightly savory note to them, and the basil sugar ingredient (shown at right) is terrific in iced tea.

For today’s treat, I took the basil out of the side sauce and into the spotlight, with a lemon-basil sorbet. The buttermilk makes an excellent (low-cal!) base for this sorbet, having its own lightly tart flavor. Kitchen Goddess note: You can easily make this sorbet with limes instead, which I have noted in the recipe. The lime will add a bit more pucker to the sorbet; the lemon makes a softer flavor. Both will be delicious. And the strawberry sauce is so clear, it’s like a scattering of red jewels under the sorbet.

Lemon-Basil Sorbet

Adapted from Weight Watchers online.

Makes about 6 cups.

1⅓ cups sugar, divided
⅔ cup water
1 cup basil, minced*
1 quart low-fat buttermilk
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or lime juice)
zest of one lemon (or one lime, if using lime juice)

Make basil syrup: In a small saucepan, combine ⅔ cup sugar with the ⅔ cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved. Boil 1 minute, then stir in the minced basil and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled.

In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk and the remaining ⅔ cup sugar, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. In a blender, mix together the buttermilk, lemon (or lime) zest and lemon (or lime) juice, along with the cooled basil syrup. Blend on medium high for about one minute to get the basil more finely processed.

Pour the mixture into a large container and chill thoroughly (1-2 hours), then process in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s directions.

Strawberries in Lemon Syrup

Adapted from David Lebovich’s The Perfect Scoop

¼ cup sugar
1 cup water
grated zest of one lemon (or lime)
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar and water and lemon (or lime) zest. Bring to a boil, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Once the mixture reaches a boil, remove from heat and chill thoroughly.

Gently fold the strawberries into the lemon (or lime) syrup and allow to macerate for at least one hour and up to 4 hours.

To serve with Lemon-Basil Sorbet, spoon the strawberries with some syrup into a bowl and float a scoop of the sorbet on top.

Step 1: Stack the basil leaves, 8-10 at a time.
*Kitchen Goddess note: To mince the basil, start by stacking a bunch of leaves (8-10, or as many as you can manage), then roll them into a cigar shape and thinly slice across the cigar. The resulting cut is called a chiffonade. Then mince that pile.

Step 2: Roll the leaves into a cigar shape.

Step 3: Thinly slice the tube to produce thin strips of basil.

Step 4: Separate the rolled strips and mince. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Heaven Is a Place Where Strawberries Grow
What’s cooking? Frozen Strawberry Yogurt and Spiced Strawberry Preserves

When I was four years old, my family was uprooted from San Antonio and plopped down in Sacramento, California, courtesy of the Korean War. My dad had been a pilot in WWII, and I guess they were desperate for pilots in Korea, so off we went. I don’t remember much about that year – it was only one year, during which my brother was born – but I have a completely clear memory of the huge strawberry field that began at the edge of our back yard. I remember picking those strawberries – the bright red color, the dimpled surface, the unmistakable mix of sugar and grassiness in the scent, the watery sweetness of the flesh, and the crunch of the tiny seeds. Ever since then, I’ve had a deep-seated fondness for the fruit, especially when it’s ripe and fresh from the fields.

As an adult, I tried growing them in our yard when we lived in the New Jersey suburbs, and while they didn’t seem unhappy, our property wasn’t sunny enough for them to bear fruit. When my husband and I moved to Texas five years ago, I bought a couple of strawberry plants for my uber-sunny kitchen garden. Still no fruit. But I liked the look of the greenery, and I had hopes. And the plants were hardy enough to make it through the winter. Thus it developed that this year, by some miracle, a few berries showed up. I was thrilled as I waited for them to ripen, and even caught a couple on camera. But it seems that the squirrels were watching as closely as I, and the number of berries that made it into the kitchen could be counted on one hand. Very sad.

Then we headed north to New Jersey for the summer. As I wandered through my favorite farmers’ market last week, I caught a scent. Could it be? I quickened my pace, and, sure enough, one of the farmstands that specialize in fruit had a huge display of them. I bought four quarts. And this past Sunday, I bought four more. I’ve added them to my yogurt for breakfast, put them into salads, made frozen strawberry yogurt and strawberry jam, eaten them with a bit of cream and sugar, and nibbled on them plain. This week, I also spotted rhubarb, so now I’ll be making strawberry-rhubarb sorbet. Watch for that in a later post.

In the meantime, here are the two recipes I’ve made: a creamy, very-berry frozen yogurt with a color so clear and bright you want to slather it all over your body; and a balsamic-and-peppercorn laced version of strawberry preserves that’s so good with goat cheese it will have your guests sneaking back into your house to steal the leftovers. Neither of these recipes is labor-intensive, so you have time to kick back and enjoy the summer.

For the frozen yogurt recipe – and for any recipe I have that uses yogurt – I prefer Greek yogurt. For starters, it’s strained extensively, which removes more of the whey and makes the result thicker and creamier. Moreover, Greek yogurt has twice the protein, half the sugar, and half the salt of regular yogurt. Go Greek!

Frozen Strawberry Yogurt

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop

Makes about 1 quart.

1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
⅔ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch or other favorite liqueur (I used Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt plus ¼ cup heavy cream, OR 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt (I don’t have many other uses for whole-milk yogurt, and it’s fairly high in fat, so I prefer to use non-fat yogurt and heavy cream)

In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and vodka or liqueur. Let sit for an hour, stirring occasionally.

In a blender, purée the strawberry mix with the lemon juice, yogurt, and cream, until very smooth (about 1 minute). Chill for at least an hour, then process according to your ice cream machine instructions.

* * *

The preserves in this post are very similar in taste to the Spiced Strawberry Sorbet I blogged about a year ago. In fact, they use the exact same ingredients, just in slightly different proportions. So the flavor is that same peppery-sweetness that makes the tip of your tongue sizzle a bit. It’s delightful any time of day: with savory biscuits for breakfast, or spooned over fresh goat cheese on crostini or crackers as an hors d’oeuvre, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream for dessert. The recipe satisfies all my criteria for a great post on epicurious: as of this writing, it carries a 4-fork rating and was reviewed by 41 home chefs, 95% of whom would make it again.

And depending on how fast you can slice strawberries, you might even be able to make it in less than an hour.

Spiced Strawberry Preserves

Adapted from Gourmet, June 1997

Makes about 16 ounces (enough to fill two half-pint jars).

2 mounded cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
1¼ cups sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat slightly, so that the mixture remains in a low, rolling boil. If you are compulsive enough (which I am not), you may want to skim the foam, to produce slightly clearer preserves. Let the mixture boil, stirring occasionally, for 18-20 minutes, or until thickened and translucent. [Kitchen Goddess note: To test whether your preserves are set, start by putting a saucer in the freezer at the beginning of the cooking. When you think the jam might be ready, retrieve the saucer and dribble a small spoonful (about a quarter of a teaspoon) onto the center of the saucer. Let it sit for 30 seconds then tilt the plate to about a 15º angle. If the jam barely moves on the plate, it’s done. If it runs down the plate, let it boil a few more minutes.]

Remove the pan from the heat and spoon into jars. Allow to cool completely before storing in the fridge where they’ll keep for a month. Or process for preserving in jars.

Kitchen Goddess warning: Don’t overcook this stuff. Start with a large enough pan to give plenty of surface area, which will reduce the preserves faster. (I used a 3½-quart saucepan.) The second key is to bring it to what I’d call either a hard simmer or a low-rolling boil, and keep it there. If you follow these two tips, your jam should be ready in 18-20 minutes.

I overcooked mine the first time I made it. I’d read many reviews that suggested 20 minutes wasn’t nearly enough, so I boiled it for 30 minutes. What I got was this, which I had to literally pry out of the jars – before throwing it out – the next morning. Hilarious but frustrating, and a waste of good berries. Here endeth the lesson.

Monday, June 9, 2014

We Have Winners! And for Everyone Else, a Veggie That Makes a Meal
What’s cooking? Artichokes and Dipping Sauces

Before I spend a moment more holding you in eager anticipation, let me announce the winners. The drawing was a somewhat informal affair, but totally legit as monitored by my husband the lawyer. And if you’re not one of the lucky two, keep reading, as I have a great method for cooking artichokes, as well as some terrific dipping sauces.

The winner of the Hamilton Beach Six-Speed Stand Mixer is...

And the winner of the Hamilton Beach Six-Speed Hand Mixer is...

Congratulations to both of you! I’ll be contacting you separately to get an address for the Hamilton Beach people to send your prize. 

* * *

And now...

“Do we have a cooler we can take on this trip?” I asked my husband. We were preparing for our annual journey north to New Jersey for the summer, only this time, we were driving.

“We have one, but why do we want it on this trip?” he replied, notes of skepticism hanging heavily in the air.

“For the artichokes.”

And that pretty much ended the conversation.

Here’s what I was thinking. We’d be spending 26 hours in a car over 2-3 days, and if I didn’t pack some real food, it’d be potato chips and Doritos and Big Macs all the way there. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I like to at least pretend to eat healthy. Plus, I hate throwing away food, and it’s really hard to ask a friend if she wants leftover roasted carrots or that piece of steak from dinner the night before last. Or the rest of the creamed fennel I experimented with the day before we left. It was really tasty, but not necessarily gift-worthy.

And as I considered the two-day trip with my hubby, the romantic in me conjured visions of us picnicking at a rest stop on some scenic byway in Arkansas or a bucolic stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But as is too often my habit, I stayed up most of the night readying the house for our absence (like we’re having visitors?), ironing (I know, let’s not even talk about it), and preparing the food for travel. So I spent the first day on the road sleeping, and the second day it rained the whole way.

In the end, we arrived in New Jersey with most of the food still in the coolers. Yes, I needed two of them. Don’t ask. On the plus side, we had artichokes for dinner the day after we arrived.

Which brings me to those delectable veggies. Like my mother, I used to just boil artichokes in plain water. I’d dip the leaves in mayonnaise or melted butter, and I loved them that way. Then I discovered seasoning, and I’d add garlic salt to the water, and maybe a bay leaf. But I still needed that mayo or butter. So in that constant quest to get thinner, I decided to experiment a bit with the cooking medium, to see if I couldn’t get more flavor, less dipping sauce. With this preparation, you hardly need sauce. Then again, why not? So while I was at it, I played around with sauces, too.

Most artichokes are green; these purple beauties, called Violetto or Purple of Romagna, quickly disappeared from my grocery store.

A Note about Artichokes: According to the Wikipedia folks, the antioxidant level in artichoke flower heads (mostly in the pulp of the leaves) is the highest of any vegetable. Artichokes reduce cholesterol levels by raising the ratio of HDL to LDL. They also help with digestion through a beneficial effect on gut bacteria, ameliorating symptoms of dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome. Amazing that something so tasty can be so good for you.

Herbed Artichokes

To serve two.

2 large artichokes
1 lemon, halved
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
2 tablespoons salt
a hefty sprig of thyme

Cut the stems of two large artichokes level with the base of the bulbs. Remove small leaves from the base of the artichokes, and, using kitchen shears, trim the sharp tips of the leaves, up to about ½ inch from the top. With a sharp knife, cut off the top ½ inch of the artichoke.

Slice a ¼-inch round from one of the lemon halves. Squeeze the juice from the smaller half into a bowl of water and soak the trimmed artichokes in it while you wait for the cooking water to boil.

Fill a 4.5-quart Dutch oven with 2 quarts of cold water. Add the lemon slice and the juice from the remaining lemon half. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.

Hmmm... where did that lemon slice go?
Once the water boils, add the artichokes (base down – though they won’t likely stay that way) to the water and boil 45-50 minutes, or until you can pierce the base easily with a knife. Alternatively, you can pull one of the larger leaves off and taste it for tenderness.

When done, drain the artichokes (base up) in a colander for 5-10 minutes. Serve with your choice of dipping sauce or sauces. Artichokes can be served hot or chilled, depending on your preference. The Kitchen Goddess has occasionally served an artichoke with dipping sauce as one of the hors d’oeuvres at a dinner party. Just be sure to leave out a bowl for discarding the leaves.

There’s a huge range of possibilities for dipping sauce, including melted butter, vinaigrette dressing, mayonnaise, and hollandaise. From past posts, I can recommend Roasted Red Pepper Aioli, Tangy Mustard, or Herbed Buttermilk Ranch Dressing. Or try one of these four.

From bottom, moving clockwise: Aioli, Roasted Garlic Sauce, Lemon-Thyme Butter, Herbed Mayonnaise.

Traditional Aioli

Adapted from Gourmet, September 2002

2 cloves garlic
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil
additional salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Using a chef’s knife or a fork, mash the garlic to a paste with the salt. (If you’re not sure how to do this, here’s a nice video.) Set aside.

In a small but deep bowl, whisk together the yolk, lemon juice, and mustard. Combine the oils in a measuring cup and drizzle slowly into the yolk mixture while whisking constantly. Once the mix emulsifies, you can add oil more rapidly; if the mixture separates or isn’t emulsifying, stop adding oil and whisk until it comes together in a mayonnaise consistency. If it becomes too thick, whisk in a few drops of room temperature water.

Add the garlic paste and another ⅛ teaspoon salt, and whisk to combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Kitchen Goddess note: You can make this in a food processor, especially if you’re making a larger amount. For a single recipe, the Kitchen Goddess think that’s way more trouble in the clean-up category than it’s worth, as the whisking takes very little time. But if you’re doubling or tripling the recipe, start by puréeing the garlic with the salt in the food processor. Add the yolk, lemon, and mustard, then while the machine is running, drizzle the oil in slowly.

Roasted Garlic Sauce

1 bulb garlic
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (or light mayonnaise)
2 tablespoons sour cream (or yogurt)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Start by roasting the garlic. Remove as much of the papery outer skin as you can, while still leaving the individual cloves covered. Slice enough of the top off the head to expose the individual cloves. Trim the base of the bulb just so that the bulb sits flat, and set it in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the bulb, and sprinkle on a pinch of kosher salt. Cover the dish and bake in a 400º oven for 40-45 minutes. (Alternatively, you can wrap the bulb in aluminum foil to bake)

When the garlic is done and cooled, squeeze the cloves out and, using a fork or the flat part of a chef’s knife, work them into a paste. Combine the mayonnaise and sour cream, and add the garlic. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Herbed Mayonnaise

Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2008

½ cup low-fat mayonnaise
⅓ cup chopped fresh herbs (I used half parsley, half dill)
2 tablespoons chopped capers, drained
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Lemon-Thyme Butter

Adapted from

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small microwaveable bowl. Allow to sit at least 30 minutes for flavors to combine. Reheat before serving.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Another Giveaway! In Honor of Brides & Grooms & Dads

What’s cooking? Chocolate Fudge Cake with Mocha Espresso Buttercream Frosting

It’s true. My friends at Hamilton Beach thought it would be nice to have another giveaway – such generous folks! – in honor of the month of weddings and Father’s Day. They sent me their 6-Speed Stand Mixer and their SoftScrape™ 6-Speed Hand Mixer to play with, and now you have a chance to win one or both (new machines, sent from Hamilton Beach) for your own kitchen playtime.

All you have to do is leave a comment either at the bottom of this post or on the Spoon & Ink Facebook page. Be sure to sign it! We’ll be drawing two names – one for each of the appliances – so if you want only one in particular, make sure to note that in your comment. Otherwise, I’ll just include everyone in the drawings for both.

Either of these machines would make a great wedding gift, anniversary gift, or Father’s Day gift. Or maybe you’d just like one for yourself. Sort of a Happy June gift. I’ll be drawing the names of the winners on Monday, June 9, so you have exactly a week to enter.

The Kitchen Goddess is not normally a cake baker. But the opportunity to try out these machines had her daring to challenge herself. What could she make that would take advantage of both? How about a cake with buttercream frosting? she thought lustily. Chocolate with mocha frosting – her taste buds were humming even before she unpacked the boxes.

I turned to Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Cake Bible – really the most comprehensive guide to cake baking ever. And as luck would have it, my book group would be meeting the week I was testing the mixers, so I’d have mouths to feed whatever I made. It was important not to be trapped in the house with a big bowl of buttercream frosting. To say nothing of the chocolate cake.

The Machines

What fun. Before the cake, I practiced on the stand mixer with a batch of brownies (thick batter with nuts) and meringues (thin batter, high speed). It worked fine with both. The mixing action of the Hamilton Beach stand mixer is the same as a KitchenAid® – the single mixing head rotates around the bowl as it spins, so you get better bowl coverage than with a two-beater style. It’s a lot lighter in weight than the competition, so it’s easy to move from cabinet to counter; and it has these nifty little suction cups that keep it from dancing around your countertop while it’s running. The bowl (3.5-quart capacity) is slightly smaller than the KitchenAid Classic (4.5-quart), but perfectly adequate to hold the batter for a two-layer cake. It was a little noisy, but not enough to be a problem. And the price is about half that of The Other Brand.

I must admit that I haven’t used a hand mixer since my single days, so was pleasantly surprised by how easily I managed the Hamilton Beach model. Rose actually recommends using a hand-held mixer for the buttercream, in that it’s easier to keep the beaters away from the stream of sugar syrup – you don’t want it all stuck to the sides of the bowl. What I remember most about my hand-held mixer from the old days is the racket from clanking its way around the bowl. Hamilton Beach’s SoftScrape™ beaters (specially coated metal beaters) make that problem go away. But what I liked most about it was the storage case that fits onto the housing and holds all the beaters. Very neat and compact.

The Cake

OMG. You will moan. You will weep with ecstacy. And then you will curse me for giving you this recipe. You will not believe how light and moist and tender – yet still chocolatey –  this cake is. According to Berenbaum, the molasses in the brown sugar gives it “a distinctive and pleasantly bitter edge.” So it’s light and moist and not too sweet – a triple winner. I used Hershey Special Dark Cocoa, which is heavily Dutched (a process that neutralizes the acidity of the cocoa beans), so it produces a very dark color – think Oreo cookie dark – and extra mellow flavor. The husband of my book group’s host announced to no one in particular, “I don’t know if you’re giving prizes for the desserts, but this one wins.”

The frosting had about twice as much butter as buttercreams I’ve made in the past, but I took Rose Levy Berenbaum’s word for it, and was suitably impressed. For starters, it’s not cloyingly sweet, which many buttercreams are. Moreover, she suggests limiting the amount of frosting between layers, so as not to overwhelm the cake. Another excellent idea. The Kitchen Goddess recommends chilling the frosting a bit before spreading – it’s a little slippery otherwise.

Mostly because I can’t help myself, I dressed the final product with a few silver dragées. The cake seemed happy to have them. I should tell Rose.

Kitchen Goddess note #1: Ms. Berenbaum lists her ingredients by volume and by weight. She believes weighing is faster and more precise than measuring. In the classes I’ve taken at the Culinary Institute, they recommend weighing dry ingredients whenever you are baking. I’ve listed both quantities for the dry ingredients, in case you don’t have a scale. But you should get a scale – it makes baking (and many other recipes) more reliable.

Kitchen Goddess note #2: I discovered a product – recommended by Ms. Berenbaum – that takes all the tedium and mess out of greasing and flouring a cake pan. Soooo easy. It’s called Baker’s Joy, a shortening spray mixed with flour. For me, it was worth getting even if this is the only cake I make for a long time. And especially with a chocolate cake, which has a tendency to stick, you can also use Baker’s Joy on the parchment liner in the bottom.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

Adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Cake Bible

Serves 12.

3 ounces (¾ cup + 3 tablespoons, lightly spooned) unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
1½ cups boiling water
3 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla
10.5 ounces (3 cups) sifted cake flour
15.25 ounces (2 cups, firmly packed) light brown sugar
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

Special equipment: two 9-inch round cake pans (1½-inch deep), greased, then the bottoms lined with baker’s parchment, then greased again and floured (or spray Baker’s Joy on the whole damn thing); greased wire racks for cooling the layers.

Preheat the oven to 350º.

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cocoa and the boiling water, whisking until smooth. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

2. When the cocoa mixture is cooled, pour about ¼ of it into a medium bowl with the eggs and the vanilla, and whisk lightly until well mixed.

3. Into a large mixing bowl, put the remaining dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt), and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to combine well. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture (from step 1), and mix on low speed until the ingredients are evenly moist.

4. Increase the speed on the mixer to medium (high if using a hand-held mixer) for 1½ minutes; this will aerate the cake and help develop the structure. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the egg mixture (from step 2) in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition and again scraping down the sides.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. If you are using two ovens, place the pans in the centers; with one oven, place the pans in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and switch them at about the 20-minute mark.

6. Cool the layers in the pans on racks for 10 minutes, then loosen the sides with a metal spatula or knife and invert onto greased racks. Caution: because the cakes are so moist and tender, you need to be careful when inverting the pans, or the layers will fall out and break apart. (Yes, one of mine did, and I had to “glue” it back together with frosting. So a word to the wise...)

Mocha Espresso Buttercream Frosting

Makes 4 cups, enough to frost two 9-inch round, 1½-inch high layers, or three 9-inch by 1-inch round layers.

6 ounces bittersweet or extra bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons Medaglia d’Oro instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon boiling water
6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 pound unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened to room temperature

Special equipment: candy thermometer

1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it over low heat. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Stir together the espresso powder and the boiling water until it forms a smooth paste. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

3. Grease a 1-cup heat-proof glass measure and set aside near the stovetop.

4. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. Attach the candy thermometer and check occasionally – don’t stir – until the mixture reaches 238º (soft-ball stage).

5. While you wait for the syrup, using a large bowl and an electric mixer, beat the yolks on high until they are light in color, 2-3 minutes.

6. As soon as the sugar/water mix reaches 238º, immediately pour the syrup into the greased glass measure to stop the cooking. If you are using a hand-held mixer, with the mixer running, pour the syrup in a thin, slow stream into the yolks, being careful not to let the beaters splatter the syrup around the sides. With a rubber spatula, scrape as much of the syrup as possible from the cup. Continue beating until the mixture is completely cooled, 5-6 minutes.

If you’re using a stand mixer, pour a small amount of the syrup into the egg mixture with the motor turned off, then immediately beat at high speed for 5 seconds. Stop the motor and add a larger amount of syrup, then quickly beat at high speed for another 5 seconds. Stop the motor again and add the remaining syrup, scraping with a rubber spatula to get any syrup off the sides of the glass measure, then beat until the mixture is completely cooled, 5-6 minutes.

7. When the egg/syrup mixture is completely cooled to room temperature, beat in the butter (medium-high speed) one tablespoon at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each piece before adding another. Add the melted chocolate and the espresso concentrate and continue to beat until the buttercream is smooth and evenly mixed. Chill 30 minutes before frosting the cake.