rhubarb crumb bars

I’m so glad it’s rhubarb season again.  Even though I had eaten rhubarb in various forms over the years last spring was the first time I ever prepared anything with it.  Rhubarb pie is awesome and rhubarb fool is not to shabby either.

This time I decided to try a rhubarb bar recipe and found one with a crumb topping from Martha.  Who doesn’t like a crumb topping?

This recipe has several dimensions.  The bottom layer is a sweet and moist cake, followed by the rhubarb layer, and then topped with the butter/flour/brown sugar crumb topping.  A major winner, and not complicated to assemble in the least.  Get to it!

Rhubarb Crumb Bars (from www.marthastewart.com)

For the Streusel

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Cake

  • 1/2 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour.

Make streusel: Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt. Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Make cake: In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour. In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy; beat in eggs, one at a time. With mixer on low, beat in vanilla, then flour mixture. Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with rhubarb and top with streusel.

Bake cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan. Using paper overhang, lift cake from pan. Cut into 16 bars.

flourless chocolate cake

Ah, spring.  You have arrived!  Over the past week I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the overgrown bush outside my front door is in fact a lilac bush.  Nice!  I am going to trim it a bit this week so I can enjoy the lilac fragrance indoors.  (Don’t tell my landlord.)

In other spring news, I baked a flourless chocolate cake for you.

This recipe is so simple.  It can be made from scratch to finished product in 45 minutes.  And also its delicious.  And gluten-free!

If you are making this for a birthday, as I did, don’t expect it to be birthday cake-like.  We took to referring to it as the “brownie-cake.”  It is rather flat and is so rich that no frosting is required so does not resemble a typical cake but it will still knock the socks off of all who eat it.  I converted a few naysayers who were skeptical of gluten-free baking with this cake.  It’s magical.  Just like spring.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (recipe found at www.epicurious.com from Gourmet magazine, November 1997)

  • 4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container, 1 week.)

a Fat Tuesday cake for you

I’m going to start with the bad news: unfortunately I did not bring home a prize at this year’s bake-off.  I was bummed but have consoled myself with these two thoughts: 1) a second trophy would just be plain ostentatious on top of my fridge, and 2) this cake recipe was not meant to be consumed in one-square-inch portions.

You see, at this bake-off we were asked to cut our desserts into one-square-inch pieces so that many people would be able to sample them and then vote for their favorite.  Problem is, this cake is best enjoyed as one big sloppy piece.  It’s a triple layer cake and you gotta get all three layers and the frosting in a single bite to capture all of its wonderment.  You live, you learn.

I  will admit that this recipe is not for every home baker.  If you are looking for a simple cake to make for a loved one’s birthday, this ain’t it.  This is the cake you make when you’ve got a few hours to spare and really want to impress people with something a little out of the ordinary.

My mom has a rule that any recipe she tries has to be two pages or less– if it’s more than two pages she says it’s too complicated.  Well Mom, this is a three-pager.  Sorry.

It starts out with a white chocolate/malt/milk powder crunch.  Then there’s the malt fudge sauce.  And the malt chocolate cake.

The one fussy thing about this recipe that I don’t love is that you have to whip up egg whites until they form soft peaks and then fold the egg whites into the batter.  It takes an extra seven minutes to do and then you have to figure out what to do with the egg yolks you don’t need, (I froze mine to save for ice cream-making at a later date) but I will admit it makes for a nice light, fluffy cake.

Once you’ve made the malt crunch, the malt fudge, and the malt cake you start to layer them up…

…and up…

…and up.

Then you whip up some cocoa mascarpone frosting and frost the heck out of those layers.  I mean, who says this cake is not a winner?  In my book it is.

Chocolate Malt Crunch Cake

Malt Crunch (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Momofuku Milk Bar” by Christina Tosi)

  • ¾ cup milk powder
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 6 ounces white chocolate, melted
  • ¾ cup malt powder

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Combine ½ cup of the milk powder (reserve ¼ cup for later), flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium bowl.  Toss with your hands to mix.  Add the melted butter and toss, using a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat- lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes.  Cool the crumbs completely.

Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than ½ inch in diameter, and put the crumbs in a medium bowl.  Add the reserved ¼ cup milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Pour half of the melted white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed.  Then add the malt powder and toss with the milk crumbs until all of the crumbs are a light brown.

Pour the remaining melted white chocolate over the crumbs and continue tossing until all of the clusters are enrobed.  Refrigerate for about 20 minutes to cool and then toss again and break up large clusters.  The crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.

Malt Fudge Sauce (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Momofuku Milk Bar” by Christina Tosi)

  • 2 ounces 72% chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup malt powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate, malt powder, molasses, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir intermittently while bringing to boil over high heat.  The moment it boils, pour it into the bowl holding the chocolate.  Let sit for 1 full minute.

Slowly begin to whisk the mixture.  Then continue, increasing the vigor of your whisking every 30 seconds, until the mixture is glossy and silky-smooth.  The sauce can be used immediately or stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks; do not freeze.

Chocolate Malt Cake (adapted slightly from recipe found in “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito)

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 cup malted milk powder
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups ice cold water
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment.  Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

Sift the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg together into a large bowl.  Whisk in the malted milk powder.  Set aside

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Reduce the speed to low.  Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks form.  Do not over-beat.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops.  Bake for 40 minutes to 45 minutes, rotating the pans twice during the baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.  Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes.  Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely.  Remove the parchment.

 

Cocoa Mascarpone Frosting

  • 1      (8-ounce) package mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1      stick butter, softened
  • 2      cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • ¾      cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3.5      oz. milk chocolate bar, chopped and melted

Blend mascarpone cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl with beater or stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment at medium speed until combined. Add cocoa powder and confectioners’ sugar and blend on low.  Add melted milk chocolate and blend until smooth.

Assemble Cake:

Place one cake round on plate.  Re-heat the Malt Fudge Sauce if necessary by microwaving at 30-second intervals in the microwave until at spreadable consistency.  Spread approximately half of the Malt Fudge Sauce over the cake and smooth with a spatula.  Sprinkle about ½ cup of the Malt Crunch over the fudge.  Place second cake round on top and repeat with Malt Fudge Sauce layer and Malt Crunch.  Place third cake round on top.  Frost top and sides of cake with Cocoa Mascarpone Frosting.

cake trials

The last month or so of my weekends have been spent doing some serious recipe testing.  Chocolate-malt-cake recipe testing to be more specific.  You see, I am entering a bake-off this weekend– only my second ever, but my first was a success so I want to be sure to give it my all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first cake I made was a little on the dry side and didn’t include any malt powder in the batter which I think it needed to impart the flavor I was going for, but there were elements I loved like the white chocolate-malt crunch and the malt chocolate fudge sauce between layers.  Also it felt strange to eat an unfrosted cake.  Cake should have frosting unless it’s perhaps a bundt cake or angel food cake or something along those lines.  But classic cake for sure should be frosted to the max.

The second cake I made was moist and delicious and included malt powder in the batter only the cake itself wasn’t chocolate and that just felt wrong since the theme of the bake-off is “death by chocolate.”  I did frost it this time but used some marshmallow mascarpone frosting I had in my freezer from a previous baking expedition and added cocoa powder without taking any sort of measurements meaning I couldn’t recreate it exactly the same again if I tried…

Last weekend I added cocoa powder to the cake batter so now I feel confident about the cake and the in-between-layer-goodness but felt the simple chocolate buttercream frosting I whipped up was a let down…

…I’ve decided that the final cake will have a cocoa mascarpone frosting of my own device.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Wish me luck!

a souvenir for you

I did not do much shopping on my recent trip.  I think this partially has to do with the fact that I work in the retail industry and the last thing I want to do most days is shop for stuff after being surrounded by it all day.  Sure, I still do my fair share of shopping, but it just doesn’t hold the same thrill it once did.  This is probably why I now measure most trips (and even just my daily life, for that matter) on food eaten and enjoyed.  And much food was eaten and enjoyed on this trip.

One of the best things I ate while in England was lemon polenta cake.  Polenta cake?  Craziness.  Polenta is often associated with savory Italian dishes, but it can also be used in sweet dishes too.  Love the versatility.  I also am growing to love lemon desserts more and more as I get older.  They are refreshing and usually not overly sweet and therefore the perfect ending to a large meal.

So when I returned from my trip I immediately started researching recipes and found one for this very cake and it just happened to be from an English foodie: Nigella Lawson.  I used to watch her program on the Food Network and loved how she never measured things perfectly and unapologetically licked spoons after mixing batters.  Sort of like an English version of Paula Deen who I also think is the bee’s knees.

I read recipes like I read books and I could tell that this one was going to be good.  I was also pleased to see that it does not contain wheat flour as I have been meaning to experiment more with gluten-free baking because I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have a wheat sensitivity.  Apart from the polenta (or cornmeal as many of us know it here) there is also almond flour which is very light and surprisingly easy to find even in conventional grocery stores.

The result?  At the risk of sounding immodest, I’d say it was just as good as what I ate across the pond…

Lemon Polenta Cake (adapted very slightly from a Nigella Lawson recipe found at www.foodnetwork.com)

Cake:

  • 1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 cups almond meal/flour
  • 3/4 cup fine polenta/cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (gluten-free if required)
  • 3 eggs
  • Zest 2 lemons (save the juice for the syrup)

Syrup:

  • Juice 2 lemons (see above)
  • Heaping 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the cake: Line the base of your cake pan with parchment paper and grease its sides lightly with butter. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the butter and sugar till pale and whipped, either by hand in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or using a freestanding mixer.

Mix together the almond meal, polenta and baking powder, and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by 1 egg, then alternate dry ingredients and eggs.

Finally, beat in the lemon zest and pour the mixture into prepared pan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. It may seem wobbly but a cake tester should come out with just a few crumbs and the edges of the cake will have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack, but leave in its pan.

For the syrup: Make the syrup by boiling together the lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar in a small saucepan. Once the confectioners’ sugar has dissolved into the juice, you’re done. Prick the top of the cake all over with a toothpick, pour the warm syrup over the cake, and leave to cool before taking it out of its pan.

Make Ahead Note: The cake can be baked up to 3 days ahead and stored in airtight container in a cool place. Will keep for total of 5 to 6 days.

Freeze Note: The cake can be frozen on its lining paper as soon as cooled, wrapped in double layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil, for up to 1 month. Thaw for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature.