Monday, May 30, 2016

The Power of Suggestion
What’s cooking? Molten Chocolate Cake

I’m so easily led. Our gourmet group met last week, and my course was the dessert. The theme was “something Asian,” which had me stumped for a while. Then an internet search yielded a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake with Chinese five-spice powder. That sounded good, and I figured I could serve some green tea ice cream with it.

Kitchen Goddess note: Five-spice powder is a warm and fragrant spice blend often found in Asian cooking, especially Chinese cuisine. Finely ground from fennel seed, Chinese cinnamon (milder than the cassia cinnamon generally available in the U.S), star anise, clove, and Sichuan pepper, the mix is most often used on all kinds of meats. But I’ve incorporated it in a breakfast dish of steel-cut oats, a fabulous cranberry sauce made with pinot noir, and this chocolate cake. The flavor is occasionally described as “haunting.” The Sichuan peppers are hard to come by [read: expensive], so they’re often left out of commercial blends. The mix from Penzey’s uses cassia cinnamon, and ginger instead of the pepper; Central Market in Austin offers five-spice powder in the bulk baking aisle, using cassia cinnamon and black pepper instead of the Sichuan.

I sent along the description of my dessert to our fearless leader, a highly organized guy who assembles the menu into a lovely document with photos and all. But I didn’t have a photo of what I wanted to do, and he really likes having photos, so he found one on his own – an individual-sized chocolate cake with a small scoop of ice cream next to it. (This guy isn’t just well organized – he’s resourceful, and relentless. Reminding me a bit of the Kitchen Goddess, only with better technical skills.) As it happens – and because I am the Kitchen Goddess – I could tell that the cake in the photo was a molten chocolate cake, which is a totally different texture than what I had planned to make. Ha! I said to myself. Then Hmmm... Then Mmmmm... The more I looked at his photo, the more I wanted what he had pictured. So I revised my plan, put the five-spice powder into Jean-George Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake recipe, and that’s what I served.

This is why I often ask the waiter in a restaurant to take my order last. Unless I’m completely sure of what I want to eat, I’m very often swayed by what others at the table order. So if I say I’ll have the chicken, and the next person orders the filet of sole, I start thinking, Well, that sounds really good. Maybe better than the chicken. And before I know it, I’m saying, “Oh waiter, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have the sole, too.”

And then I go through the same routine with each person around the table, unless someone orders steak, which I can usually pass.

The problem is that I mentally taste each dish, and if I start by tasting the chicken, well, then, by the time the next person orders the sole, I’ve pretty much done with mentally eating the chicken and am ready for something else. It’s a curse.

In the end, the molten chocolate cake with five-spice powder was extremely yummy. My good buddy, Jean-George (we’ve never met, but I just know we’d be friends if we did) – who is credited with inventing the concept – appears in a video on The New York Times website, in which he makes said cake faster than... well, pretty darn fast. And the concept is incredibly simple. No ball of chocolate truffle to insert into the dough. Instead, the trick is not to cook it long, and because there’s precious little flour in the mix, the uncooked insides are just rich, gooey chocolate. Also no icing, though you may want to sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Was it a success? Let me just say that the whole table went quiet as everyone cut gently into their cakes.

With only a few ingredients, the recipe is ripe for adding a bit of flavoring, as I did. But you could instead add cinnamon or candied ginger or espresso powder or orange liqueur or nothing – whatever strikes your fancy. Garnish with some fat raspberries or a sprig of mint, or whipped cream. Or green tea ice cream, which was a divine combo – as long as you like green tea. (My post with Green Tea Ice Cream will be coming up soon. Be patient.)

Today’s Brilliant Idea

One of the few issues you face in serving molten chocolate cakes is the problem of getting them out of the very hot ramekins and onto the plate. If you’ve adequately greased and floured the ramekins, all you have to do is put a plate on top of one and turn it over. But that means picking them up, and you can’t wait until they cool. The Kitchen Goddess has more than once burned her fingers in this process. But in my wanderings around the web, I came across Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph, on He suggests wrapping the business ends of tongs with paper towels, secured by rubber bands, at which point you can easily pick up a hot ramekin and invert it without hurting yourself. The internet is a wonderful place.

The Cake

With all these distractions, I don’t want you to miss the point of this post, which is to make this cake. OMG, you will not find another dessert that is simultaneously this mouth-watering and easy to make. It’s so popular in Jean-George’s restaurants, he says they make thousands each day. So even if you don’t trust the Kitchen Goddess (what??!!), you can trust all those customers. It’ll take more time on your first try, but on my third time making this recipe, the longest part of the process was waiting for my oven to get to 450º. Seriously. And then the little darlings cook in only 7-8 minutes!

Molten Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Jean-George Vongerichten, as seen in The New York Times.

Makes 4 cakes.

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
4 ounces unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the molds*
2 large eggs
2 yolks from large eggs
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring the molds*
Optional flavorings: 1¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, or 1¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Garnishes (any combination of these): powdered sugar, mint sprig, raspberries, ice cream, whipped cream

Special equipment: four 6-ounce molds or ramekins, buttered and floured or sprayed with Baker’s Joy.

*Kitchen Goddess note: You can save yourself time and a pain in the neck by purchasing a can of Baker’s Joy, a calorie-free non-stick baking spray with flour. Spray it on the insides of your molds, and in seconds, you are ready to roll.

Start by melting the butter and chocolate together in a saucepan or medium-sized bowl. You can do this using a double boiler with hot water, or a bowl set over a saucepan of hot water, or you can melt the butter in the microwave and stir the chocolate into it until the chocolate is completely melted. Or if, like the Kitchen Goddess, you are blessed with an induction stovetop, you can put the butter and chocolate into a saucepan on the “Melt” setting and wait for technology to do its work. However you make it happen, stir together the melted butter and chocolate until well blended, and set aside.

Put the whole eggs and the egg yolks into a mixing bowl with the sugar, and beat or whisk the mixture until it becomes lighter and thickens. If you are using a stand mixer, this will take about a minute and a half on the second highest speed setting.

Stir the flour and any optional flavoring you choose into the chocolate/butter mix, and slowly pour the egg/sugar mixture into the chocolate, stirring or whisking constantly as you pour. Continue to stir the batter until the mixtures are well combined.

Pour the batter into the greased and floured molds, leaving a bit of room for the cakes to expand. At this point, you can bake them immediately, or you can cover the molds with cellophane wrap and refrigerate them for up to 3 hours. With the latter, just let them come back to room temperature (give them at least 30 minutes) before baking.

When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 450º. Put the molds or ramekins onto a rimmed baking sheet, and bake at 450º for 8 minutes. The Kitchen Goddess prefers to set the timer for 7 minutes, then check to see if the tops are set, and continue baking for another minute if they are not. It’s better to undercook these cakes than to overcook them, as they won’t be “molten” if they’re overcooked. The cakes are ready when the tops are barely set – that middle spot on the surface is no longer wet. The cake will still jiggle slightly.

Let the cakes sit for 1 minute before unmolding. To unmold, place a plate upside down on top of the mold, and invert the mold and plate together. Leave the mold in place for 10 seconds before lifting it off. Garnish with powdered sugar, whipped cream, ice cream, or a sprig of mint. Scatter raspberries around the plate. Serve immediately.

Coming up: Green Tea (Matcha) Ice Cream

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...
What’s cooking? Fusilli with No-cook Tomato Sauce

The first mystery of the day is what I named that file where I wrote the recipe for today’s post. I’m pretty sure I recall doing that, and I probably named it something clever and memorable.

Then there’s the question of where the time goes when I sit down at my computer. Because I made this pasta a week ago, took the photos, and planned what I’d say about it. That’s a mystery that haunts me daily.

But the mystery that started this train of thought was Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie’s classic novel. Published in 1934, it’s been adapted once as a movie (1974, starring Albert Finney), once for radio (1992-3 in a 5-part BBC series, starring John Moffat), and three times for television (2001 by CBS, starring Alfred Molina; 2010 by a British company and WGBH-TV, starring David Suchet; and 2015 by Fuji Television, with an all-Japanese cast). Another film version, starring Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, is expected out next year.

I’ve read it more than once, but most recently as my book group’s choice for the month of May. And even though I know the ending well, I always enjoy riding along with Dame Agatha as she unspools her clues. In fact, except for the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford books, I believe I’ve read almost all of Christie’s mysteries.

My fascination with mystery started with Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew, which I devoured in my preteen years. By high school, I’d graduated to Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series, and when I finished that, I moved on to Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I’ve since covered the landscape of Raymond Chandler, Colin Dexter, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, Dashiell Hammett, P.D. James, John D. MacDonald, Ross Macdonald, Ngaio Marsh, Robert Parker,  Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, and, of course, the delicious Arthur Conan Doyle. Whew! So I guess you’d say I like a good murder mystery.

Mostly what I think I like is the logic – the straightforward, linear storytelling with at least the chance that I might figure out whodunnit. And an unequivocal solution at the end.

A Cool Sauce on Hot Pasta

As the hostess for my book group’s mystery night, I wanted to serve something that wouldn’t require a lot of last-minute attention. In colder months, I often serve soup; but May in Texas isn’t soup weather. Then I remembered a dish that an Italian friend used to make in New Jersey – one that required only the heat of the just-cooked pasta to warm up the sauce. I found several variations on the web, and most of them credited my old favorite – The Silver Palate Cookbook – as the originator. So that’s where I started, too, and only added a couple of tweaks of my own.

The best thing about this sauce is that you need to assemble it hours before the guests arrive – so there’s really no way to run late. Allow however much time you need to heat the pasta water, and once the pasta is cooked, you toss it with the sauce and the dish is ready. It really couldn’t be easier. And my book group declared it “delicious!” No mystery there.

Fusilli with No-cook Tomato Sauce

Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook (Workman Publishing, 1982)

Serves 8 as a main course.

4 pints sweet cherry tomatoes
1 pound good Brie cheese
1 cup fresh basil leaves
½ cup oil-cured black olives, halved
zest of 1 lemon
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 scant cup olive oil
2½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus salt for the pasta water
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ pounds fusilli
garnish: freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

To make the Brie easier to slice, put it into the freezer while you cut up the tomatoes.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters or eighths, depending on the look you want. (The Kitchen Goddess cut hers into eighths.) Place them in a large mixing bowl.

Trim the rind off the Brie and slice it into ½-inch dice. Scatter it on top of the tomatoes.

Make a chiffonade of the basil leaves: Stack 8-10 leaves into a neat pile. Roll the leaves into a fairly tight cigar shape, and slice across the cigar in strips about ⅛ inch wide. Sprinkle the basil strips on top of the tomatoes and Brie. Repeat with the remaining basil. [Kitchen Goddess note: For the KG’s demonstration of chiffonade technique, click here.]

The sauce after less than one hour.
Add the olives, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper to the bowl, and stir gently to combine the ingredients. Cover the bowl and set it aside for 3-4 hours at room temperature, stirring gently about once an hour.
The sauce after 4 hours.

Set a large pot of well-salted water on the stove for the pasta. When you are almost ready to serve, cook the pasta according to package directions. Once the pasta is tender but still a little al dente, drain it and add it immediately to the bowl of sauce. Toss well and serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Kitchen Goddess note: The KG has specified fusilli here, because she likes a pasta with some shape to it, to help trap the gooey cheese in the sauce. But other types of pasta will do as well, such as gemelli (twists), radiatore (radiator shapes), or farfalle (bow ties). 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Treat for Mom Any Day
What’s cooking? Pâté Maison and Strawberry Pâte de Fruit

Pétanque. It’s French. Rhymes with kebonk. The Kitchen Goddess was recently invited for an evening of pétanque. I know, I hadn’t ever heard of it either. It’s a French lawn bowling game, much like the Italian bocce, in which the object is to toss or roll heavy balls at a smaller, target ball. All these games – in the larger category of boules – are played in open-air rectangular courts made of flattened earth, gravel, or crushed stone, surrounded by wooden or stone borders.

Our friends have built a pétanque court in their backyard, and they invited a small group for a “friendly” tournament. I put that word in quotes, because it turns out that guys can get charged up over a game of tiddly-winks. We all know women are much more reasonable.

In any case, it was a fun idea, made even more so by the hostess’s choice of a country French theme to the food. Guests brought cheeses, fruits, various dry sausages, and liver pâté; the hostess provided a bakery’s worth of baguettes, a gigantic salad, more cheese, and dessert. And of course, everyone brought wine. A great way to spend an evening with or without the pétanque.

The Kitchen Goddess was asked to bring a chicken liver pâté. As luck would have it, she has a great one in her repertoire, a tried and true recipe adapted from the original Silver Palate Cookbook (which, thankfully, is still available). Even if you don’t like chicken liver, or think you couldn’t possibly eat a dish made from chicken liver, you should consider this one. The KG tried it the first time because the book’s authors claim to have sold some two tons of it in their shop, and that sounded like endorsement enough.

Creamy, smooth, and slightly nutty tasting from the blend of spices, with so much butter that it’s almost more butter than chicken liver. And, of course, that makes it irresistible. There’s also a hint of sweetness from both the Calvados and the currants. I have friends who can’t believe how good it is, and it disappears completely every time I serve it at a party. The recipe makes two small pots of the stuff, and the good news is that you can freeze it for the next time the boss or your mother-in-law or anyone else you’d like to impress will be dropping by for cocktails.

But the Kitchen Goddess has never been known to leave well enough alone, so she wandered onto the interweb to see what other kinds of pâté might be available. There she discovered a darling dessert that is also a pâté, known as pâte de fruits. [Translation note: pâté – pronounced “pa-TAY” is a meat dish; pâte – pronounced “pot” – is a fruit paste. Or so I’m told.] The bigger challenge: purse your lips together, and try to pronounce f-r-wee – the sound you must make to say “fruits” in French. It’s spelled the same way as in English, but in French, you need to let your upper lip curl up in that truly Gallic fashion.

Pâte de fruits is an elegant and gorgeously simple type of confection – a French favorite for hundreds of years. Tiny cubes of pure fruit gelée dusted with sugar, they’re pretty and light and a great dessert bauble. Also très easy to make. Put out a plate of them with coffee or champagne, and watch them disappear.

So what does all this have to do with Mother’s Day, you might ask? What nicer way to celebrate than with a tray of goodies and a glass of wine? Happy Mother’s Day!!

Kitchen Goddess timing note: The pâté maison takes less than an hour, but needs to set for at least 4 hours. The pâte de fruit will take about 2 hours. It sets up very quickly, but you’ll want to wait a few hours until it’s completely cooled before cutting it into cubes and rolling it in sugar.

Pâté Maison

Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook (1982), by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

Makes about 3 cups pâté.

2 small celery ribs, including leaves, cut in 2-inch lengths
4 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound chicken livers, drained, rinsed, and patted dry, and trimmed of stringy membrane bits
pinch of cayenne pepper
½ pound unsalted butter
2 teaspoons dry mustard
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ cup coarsely chopped onion (about 2 ounces or ½ small onion)
1 small garlic clove
¼ cup Calvados
½ cup dried currants
Optional garnishes: sage leaves, fresh raspberries

Put 6 cups of cold water into a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the celery ribs and peppercorns, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the chicken livers to the pot and simmer gently for an additional 10 minutes.

Drain the livers and discard the celery ribs and the peppercorns.

Into the bowl of a food processor, place the livers and the rest of the ingredients, except for the currants. Process until very smooth, at least a minute.

Transfer the paste into a small mixing bowl, and stir in the currants. The KG then divides the mixture into two 1½-cup terrines, but you could also use a single 3-cup serving dish. Smooth the tops with a spatula, then cover the dishes with cellophane wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours. (If you taste the pâté before it has had time to set, you won’t like it. It needs that time for the flavors to meld.)

When ready to serve, garnish (if you want) and allow the pâtés to stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Serve with water crackers or fresh or toasted baguette slices.

Pâté de Fruits

Adapted from Elizabeth LaBau at

Makes 64 1-inch squares.

1 pound fresh strawberries (can use frozen if they have no sugar added), hulled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
2½ tablespoons liquid pectin

Special equipment: candy thermometer, 8x8" baking pan (glass or metal)

Spray your baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. (Ms. LaBau recommends first lining the pan with foil or parchment, but I sprayed a glass pan with PAM – no lining – and had no problem removing the finished gelée.)

Process the strawberries in a blender or food processor until very smooth.

Pour the strawberry purée into a large saucepan. Stir in the lemon juice and ½ cup of sugar. Stir well to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat and attach your candy thermometer.

Kitchen Goddess note: The minutiae of these temperature instructions may seem anxiety-producing. Do not fret. The KG herself spent a few worried moments in adjusting the heat up and down, and the results were great. Just do the best you can. The KG found a similar recipe – for a pear-cranberry pâte de fruit at, where the process was much more loosey-goosey; but I give you the directions I tried to follow.

Stirring the mixture constantly with a spatula to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, bring it to a temperature of 140°. Add the remaining 1½ cups of sugar and the pectin, and stir to combine.

Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches 200°. Be patient – this part could take 30 minutes or more. Once it reaches 200°, adjust the heat to maintain that temperature for 2-3 minutes.

Return the heat to medium/medium high until the temperature of the mix reaches 225°, and let it cook at 225° – still stirring! – for another 2-3 minutes.

Immediately pour the liquid all at once into your prepared pan, using your spatula to scrape it all in. This stuff sets up quickly once the heat is off and if you pour it in stages, you’ll find that the second stage simply sits on top of the first.

Set the pan on a cooling rack for several hours, until the mixture has cooled completely. (If you have the time, you can leave it out on the counter overnight.)

Using a sharp knife, cut the pâte de fruit into 64 1-inch squares, and roll them in your choice of sugar: superfine, regular granulated, or large-crystal sanding sugar.

Pâte de fruit keeps best at room temperature. If you choose to keep it in the refrigerator, you may need to re-roll it in sugar before serving.

* * *

Kitchen Goddess note about strawberries: The KG has posted about the most fun and amazing way to quickly hull strawberries, here. But if, when you hull your strawberries, you simply throw away the hulls, you are missing out on a great treat: strawberry water.

To make it, add those hulls – leaves intact – into a mason jar of plain water. (You’ll need about a pound’s worth of strawberries to get the full flavor.) Refrigerate overnight, then drain out the hulls. You’ll be left with a truly wonderful, strawberry-flavored water – light and so refreshing, you’ll want to buy more strawberries just to make another batch.