Friday, October 29, 2010

French Pistachio Cake

My husband had a birthday last week.  We celebrated by visiting the Danish island Samsø (photos coming soon!) and enjoying slices of this amazing cake.

When I was in Oregon last month I picked up a few bags of unsalted, shelled pistachios.  So when Alan's birthday was approaching, I wanted to make a cake that incorporated them.

I found just what I was looking for in Heidi Swanson's Gateau Surprise Chocolat Pistache.  It hit me first because it looked terrific, and after because it originates from Clotilde over at Chocolate & Zucchini.  I know how picky the French are about their sweets, so I thought it would be a perfect match for my French husband's palate.  Verdict:  He loved it!

Although Clotilde baked hers in a round cake tin, I copied Heidi and used a bread tin.  It gave the cake a more rustic presentation, I thought, and furthermore it easily withstood the jostling endured on my bicycle as we rode from the ferry to our accommodations.

This is a wonderfully moist cake with subtle flavors.  You could easily marble up the chocolate and vanilla layers with the swirl of a knife, but I really loved the separation between the strong chocolate bottom and the soft, perfumy pistachio flavor on top.

A note about pistachio paste.  The recipe calls for it, and I have absolutely no clue if it's sold anywhere in Denmark.  Therefore, I looked online for ideas and made my own.  In the food processor, I mixed 1/3 cup pistachios with 1/3 cup powdered sugar and slowly incorporated a teaspoon of water at a time (about 4 in all) to arrive at a paste consistency.  Just play around with it a little being careful to err on the side of less rather than too much water.

Finally, I went ahead and made the accompanying chocolate ganache recipe and applied it to the top, but feel free to skip this step.  As much as I love ganache, the cake is just as divine without it.

Gateau Surprise Chocolat Pistache
adapted ever so slightly from 101 Cookbooks and Chocolate and Zucchini

2c flour
2t baking powder
1t baking soda
2/3c butter, room temperature
1 1/4c sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2c plain yogurt or sour cream
1 1/2t vanilla
2T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3c chocolate chips
2T pistachio paste (see note above)
1/3c shelled pistachios, chopped

3oz. dark chocolate
1/2c whipping cream

1.  Preheat oven to 360F/180C.  Grease either a 10" (25cm) round pan or 9x5-inch loaf pan.

2.  Prepare the chocolate batter.  In a food processor, or with a hand mixer, which is what I used, combine half the sugar and half the butter and mix until fluffy.  Add in the eggs, one at a time, and mix between each.  Add half the yogurt and all of the vanilla.  Mix.

3.  In a separate bowl, combine half of the flour, half of the baking powder, half of the baking soda, and all of the cocoa powder.   Add this mix to the butter mix and combine well.  Pour into the prepared baking pan, gently stir in the chocolate chips, and place in the refrigerator while you make the pistachio batter.

4.  Combine the remaining sugar and butter and add the pistachio paste.  Mix well.  Add the eggs and the yogurt in the same way you did for the chocolate batter.

5.  In a separate bowl, combine the remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda and the chopped pistachios.  Add this mix to the butter mix and combine well.

6.  Remove the cake pan from the refrigerator.  Pour pistachio batter on top of chocolate batter and smooth with a spatula.  Bake for 40-60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.  Don't overcook.  Place on the counter to cool for 5 minutes and then remove from the pan to cool on a wire rack.

7.  Once cake reaches room temperature, frost with ganache, or not.

8.  To make the ganache, place chocolate and cream in a double boiler (or a bowl sitting atop a pan of simmering water).  Mix with a spoon until chocolate is melted and the texture is velvety.  Remove from heat and let cool approximately 30 minutes before using.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Game of Blog Tag - Questions Answered

My friend Gitte over at My Danish Kitchen tagged me in the "blog tag" game, so without further ado, here are my answers to Gitte's questions:

1.   If your house was destroyed and you could only rescue one kitchen utensil from your kitchen, which one would it be?
Nightmare! I guess if I had to choose, it would be my Global chef's knife.

2.   What is your favorite Holiday? and why?
Christmas.  I love the tree, decorations, baking gingerbread and sugar cookies, and watching my son on Christmas morning.

3.   What is your favorite go to dish, to cook or bake?
If we're talking savory, then it's soup.  If it's sweet then it has to be chocolate chip cookies. 

4.   When you need a little me-time how do you prefer to relax?
On the couch with a good book, magazine, or flipping through recipes.

5.   What type of food or dish are you the most intimidated by?
In terms of cooking, it's food from the Far East.  It's some of the best cuisine on the planet, but my Far East cooking repertoire consists of stir-fry and sushi rolls.

6.   How close do you live now from where you were born?
Far.  I was born in Salem, Oregon, USA.  I have to travel thousands of miles and take at least two planes to get there from Denmark, my home for the past two years.

7.   If the world was your oyster and time and money were of no concern, where in the world would you like to travel to?
So many places.  Russia, Vietnam, the islands in the South Pacific, and Auckland, NZ, to visit my friend Sonja.

8.   Why did you start blogging?
Writing and cooking are forms of therapy and relaxation for me. I couldn't live without either one.  My blog is a fun way to share my travels, favorite recipes, and interesting food finds.  

Thanks for the fun questions, Gitte!  I guess it's my turn to come up with my own list of bloggers to tag back.  

Friday, October 22, 2010


I knew nothing of the Danish dessert Kiksekage until one momentous spring evening earlier this year.  It was girls' night at my house and my Danish friend Susanne arrived with a bread tin containing her famous Kiksekage (pronounced keeks-a-kay).  During dinner there was some chatter along the lines of "Just wait until you try the KIKSEKAGE!" Well, trying is not exactly accurate in my case.  I consumed countless slices of crunchy vanilla cookies enveloped in rich, velvety chocolate. Kiksekage is beyond heavenly.

With a little arm twisting, I managed to get Susanne to share her secret recipe.  I was surprised to see so few required ingredients.  But there was one that stood out.  And not in a good way, unfortunately.  Palmin. Anybody besides Danes or Germans who's heard of it?  For you Americans, think Crisco.  Part of me says Who cares if the stuff has 45.3g of saturated fat per 100g?  After all, it's one dessert.  But then I think about how, in the list of different fats, palm oil is a close third behind saturated fat master butter (54g/100g) and chart topper coconut oil (85.2g/100g).  Compare that to olive oil, which has only 14g/100g.

And by now, we all know how horrible saturated fat and trans fats are to our bodies.

But screw it.  If I am going to eat Kiksekage, I want it the way God intended (just like Danish women made it a century ago), saturated fat and all.  I try to be mindful of what's going into my body, so on this rare occasion (I can see making it once a year or perhaps biennially), I will throw caution to the wind and enjoy.  Each and every saturated, long-chain-trans-fatty-acid-bite.  Well, you get the picture.

Notes:  I added 1/2t vanilla extract and the juice of one whole orange.

Susanne's Kiksekage

3 pasteurized eggs
125g/ 3/4c cocoa powder
200g/ 1.5c powdered sugar
250g/ 1c Palmin (Crisco or other shortening)
225g/ 30 vanilla cookies/biscuits
1/2t vanilla extract (optional)
1 orange (juice from half or whole orange)

9x5" bread pan

1.  With a hand mixer, combine the eggs, cocoa powder, and sugar, mix 2-3 minutes.

2.  Melt the shortening over low heat; once melted, set aside to cool.

3.  Once the shortening is cool, slowly incorporate it into the cocoa mixture.  Beat well, scraping the sides of the bowl.  The mix will be fluffy and light.  Add orange juice and vanilla and mix well once more to thoroughly combine.

4.  Line the pan with pieces of parchment paper for easy removal.

5.  Place a big spoon of chocolate mix and spread it on the bottom of the pan, corner to corner.

6.  Place 6 biscuits on top of chocolate (see photo).

7.  Spread more chocolate and another layer of biscuits.  You want a total of five (5) layers of biscuits.  Once you have the top layer of biscuits, cover with remaining chocolate mix.

8.  Refrigerate overnight.  Cut in slices and serve.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cuppa Yo

I thought frozen yogurt was sort of a thing of the past, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  I don't know if it's still the case, but when I visited a friend in NYC a few years ago Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt was all the rage. And who can forget The Country's Best Yogurt, better known as TCBY?  I haven't been to one since my college days in the 1990s and did a quick check online to see if it's still around.  It is!

There are key advantages to frozen yogurt.  Namely, fewer calories and less fat than ice cream.  I enjoy the the light and creamy consistency, and it's fun to self-select toppings.  A good frozen yogurt shop is like Subway Sandwiches or Chipotle Mexican Grill.  You start with a couple of basic ingredients and then make your own delicious creation with your choice of toppings.

In the 10 months since I'd been home, Bend, OR, got it's own, local frozen yogurt shop called Cuppa Yo.  The place is decorated simply and in darling bright colors.  The yogurt machines are tucked cleverly behind a wall with large window-type cut-outs, so all you see is the name of the featured flavors and the handles with which to dispense the frozen treat.

It's all DIY.  Upon entering the shop, one starts by selecting the container size of choice (prices are based on weight), filling it with one or more of the featured yogurt flavors, adding toppings (everything from Captain Crunch cereal to chocolate chips to fresh fruit and nuts), and taking it to the register to weigh and pay.  I paid just over $3.00 for my dish of Red Velvet Cake and Alpine Vanilla topped with crushed Oreo cookies and raspberries.

Now if I could just find a Pinkberry, TCBY, or Cuppa Yo in Denmark.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Birthday to us

Living a continent away from home usually means spending birthdays without family.  It's that way in my case.  So when my mom suggested a group birthday party during our visit in Oregon, I couldn't have been more thrilled.  And what's a birthday without cake?

Our cake, or cupcakes as luck would have it, came from Bend's local cupcakery, Ida's Cupcake Cafe.  There were an assortment of flavors, and to enjoy more of everything, the adults cut theirs in wedges and shared.  

My son Anatole and his cousin Brenna, both age three, were way more into the party festivities than the cake.  In this sense, Anatole is NOT his mother's son.  As an added bonus, my mom made party cups--the kind I remember from when I was a kid--filled with candy, nuts, and an alphabet cookie of each person's first initial on top.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dave's Killer Bread brings you Sin Dawg

Don't you just love the name Sin Dawg?  Too bad I ate half of it before remembering to take a photo.  And the pity of it all is that I didn't even snap a shot of what it looks like sliced.  Full of gooey, cinnamony goodness, that's what.

Sin Dawg is the creation of Dave's Killer Bread, an all-natural bread company in Portland, OR.  Founder Dave Dahl has quite a story of his own, which I will get to, but first more about the Sin Dawg.  You know those sickeningly sweet cinnamon rolls that we (and by we I mean the average suburban American) bought at shopping malls in the 1980s and 90s? Well, the Sin Dawg is an updated, tastier, and much healthier version of that cloying mess.  The whole-grain dough is seedy, chewy and the perfect contrast to the ultra sweet (but not overly so) interior.

My parents are also big fans of Dave's other breads and regularly buy a variety of his grainy loaves, some of which include spelt, nuts, and omega-3s.  And with names like Killer Rockin' Rye, Robust Raisin, and Killer Blues Bread, just to name a few, who can resist?

Dave is a man on a mission.  After years of living a life of crime, which included drug addiction and time in prison, Dave turned his life around and landed in the bread business.  His story is the stuff American dreams are made of, and you can read more here.