Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.

Tiramisu Cake dotted with Amaretti cookies

“Piano, piano,” Chef John cautioned me. This was my first Italian term I learned that did not come from my Rosetta Stone education. The English translation of the reproach “Piano, piano” would be “slowly.” How appropriate that I would encounter this first! It was during gelato school and I’m certain I wanted to know something that Chef John wasn’t ready to reveal. I wanted to push ahead, I wanted to understand. Label me impatient – you wouldn’t be incorrect. I always need to move forward, never happy with the in-between, never satisfied in the moment. STOP: That’s not true – I am often contented just being. CORRECTION: I’m not satisfied in the undefined moment – I’m not comfortable with vagueness. I want to know, I want to understand, I want mastery of my situation. It’s difficult for me to thrive in uncertainty. I’ve recently been reminded once again that others don’t always want to play along at my pace – and I need to learn to be comfortable with that. “Piano, piano,” I tell myself over and over again.

I’m thinking of Italy today because this cake was inspired by Beth’s upcoming tour of the booted country. She hosted an Italian “festa” for her birthday in preparation for her travels and I supplied the desserts, this cake being one of them. The idea was to combine pillowy tiramisu with a proper birthday cake. I chose my favorite chocolate cake for her husband, who claims he loves everything chocolate, soaked the sponge in Disaronno Italian liquor instead of the requisite tiramisu soaking liquid of marsala and espresso, generously layered it with a fluffy whipped mascarpone frosting and finished it with Amaretti cookies. The result is a rich, impressive, not overly sweet 4-layer cake that’s an ideal send off for anyone traveling on a trip of a lifetime.


Chocolate Almond Tiramisu Cake

  • Servings: 12-14 slices
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Layers of dark chocolate cake soaked with almond liqueur and fluffy mascarpone frosting result in a richly satisfying cake.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold water
  • ⅔ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • Filling
  • ⅓ cup almond liqueur such as Disaronno
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 8 oz. containers mascarpone cheese
  • 1 ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ⅔ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Amaretti Cookies (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups almond flour
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar, plus ½ cup for coating
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Line two 8” cake pans with parchment paper and lightly butter paper.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Combine water, oil, vanilla extract and white vinegar. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients. The batter will be wet.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make 4 even layers.
  4. Combine the liqueur and extract in a shallow dish. Set aside.
  5. Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in the heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar to make a creamy, spreadable frosting. Beat in the almond extract.
  6. Brush the bottom layer of cake with almond liqueur mixture, spread with frosting and top with another layer. Keep layering the cake and frosting and then frost the top and sides of cake. Decorate with Amaretti cookies (optional).
  7. If you are making the amaretti cookies, combine the almond flour, sugars, and salt. Add the egg white and almond extract until the dough holds together. Shape into a thin disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 325⁰ F. and line a baking sheet with parchment.
  8. Roll the dough into 9-11 gram balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on the baking sheet. Gently press down each ball to flatten slightly. Bake for about 20 minutes until they’ve cracked slightly, are golden under the sugar, but are still slightly soft when pressed in the middle. Decorate cake with cookies.

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Better Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ambiguity. His clever, well-crafted emails arrive in her mailbox daily, sounding a bit flirty, yet remaining maddeningly ambiguous. Until she sees him again — wrapped in a young, blowsy blonde, replete with pert, up-turned nose and sparkly cell phone case.

Now she knows. Ambiguous no more.

Ambiguity. She’s discussing red velvet cake with a coworker. Or, more precisely, red velvet cake doughnuts. She’s never understood the passion for the insipid flavor of red velvet anything. “Close your eyes,” she says, “and what do you really taste? It’s not chocolate; the cocoa powder is too minimal. It’s perhaps uniquely tart – but is that necessarily a good thing? What flavor makes it so adored?” Her coworker thinks it contains raspberries – no, the luxurious red comes from food coloring these days or beets, non-Dutched cocoa in the past. Not a berry to be found.

‘But couldn’t you,” he asked, “remake it in your style? With chocolate and raspberries and cream cheese frosting?”

Yes, she could. It wouldn’t be red velvet cake anymore, but something different, richer, more flavorful, and utterly her.

Her Red Velvet – ambiguous no more.


Raspberry Red Velvet Cake

  • Servings: One 8-inch Cake
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Whether this a truly a red velvet cake depends on what defines red velvet for you. This one contains rich, dark, moist chocolate cake with a hint of raspberry and lashings of cream cheese frosting and is anything but ambiguous with flavor.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1.2 oz. package freeze-dried raspberries, crushed to a powder (I buy mine at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ teaspoons red food coloring
  • Raspberry Jam
  • 4 oz. package frozen raspberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment and dust with flour.
  2. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee, and salt. Stir in the dried raspberries (reserving a bit for decoration, if desired).
  3. Combine together water, oil, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients (the mixture will be very wet).
  4. Working quickly, divide batter between pans and bake for 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, invert onto cooling racks and cool completely.
  5. Meanwhile, make raspberry jam. Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and set.
  6. To make frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until creamy.
  7. Sandwich cake with plenty of cream cheese frosting and raspberry jam. Cover top and sides with remaining frosting. Chill until ready to serve.

Pear Pecan Upside-down Cake

a beautifully decorated pear upside down cake

“…the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows.”
– Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

No riot of color or chilling air; October’s subtlety in LA is lost to anyone not labeled “native.” Sunburnt leaves wither and suicide in golden sunlight without fanfare. Stifling Santa Ana winds unfurl scents of burning sagebrush with feelings of “prickly dread” and stopped time. Earthquake weather, we call it. Porch lights flicker awake by 6:00, lighting barefoot children pedaling bikes in dusty cul-de-sacs. This is autumn in LA.

Despite the warmth, autumn in my kitchen means roasts and stews – and desserts of pumpkin, apple or pear, like this autumn-inspired Pear Pecan Upside-down Cake.


Pear Pecan Upside-down Cake

A buttery-rich cake topped with fresh pears and pecans.


Ingredients

    Topping
  • 2 Bosc pears, cored, peeled and cut into 12 slices each
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup pecans
  • ⅓ cup bourbon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Cake
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing pan
  • ½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup pecans
  • 3 Tablespoons chopped crystalized ginger

Directions

  1. Make Topping: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter a 9” cake pan and arrange pear slices in a pattern on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
  2. Bring 1 cup sugar and water to boil in a frying pan over high heat (not nonstick), reduce heat to simmer and cook, swirling, but not stirring until mixture caramelizes. When colored a medium brown, add pecans and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant. Remove from heat and carefully add bourbon and salt. Pour over pears. Note: At any place along the process, the caramel may seize and crystalize, just return it to the stove on a low heat and re-melt.
  3. Make Cake: In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together unsalted butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time; beating after each addition (I add a small tablespoon of the flour mixture after each egg to help avoid curdling). Beat in vanilla. Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, beating after each addition, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in remaining ½ cup pecans and crystalized ginger. Batter will be thick
  4. Spoon batter over pears, smoothing and spreading evenly. Bake cake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool on rack 15 minutes, invert cake on a serving platter and cool until slightly warm.

Autumn Apple Cake

Apples, cinnamon and rum-soaked raisins capture autumn in this moist Bundt cake. Coffee cake? Snack cake? Impressive post-meal dessert? It works for all three – you decide.

Autumn Apple cake on a bed of fallen leaves

Autumn in L.A.

Feigning Hollywood starlet ennui, tanned summer leaves serenely suicide from weary trees, “Too hot,” they lament, “I cannot stay a moment longer.”  L.A. subtly shifts into autumn, leaving paroxysms of sunset hues to the other coast.


Autumn Apple Cake

Adapted from Richardson’s Canal House Inn apple raisin cake.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup dark spiced rum
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled and cut into ½” dice
  • Glaze and Icing
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • Sweetened whipped cream (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan, knocking out excess flour. Combine golden raisins and rum in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Set aside and let soak.
  2. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk together oil, eggs, sugars, and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in apples and drained golden raisins. Spoon batter into pan.
  3. Bake until tester comes out clean, about 75 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes and then turn out onto rack to cool completely.
  4. In a small saucepan, combine unsalted butter, brown sugar and honey and heat on medium until sugar is completely melted and glaze is thickened and bubbling. Brush over top and sides of cake. Combine powdered sugar with enough water to make a glaze and drizzle over cake. Serve plain of with sweetened whipped cream

Sliced Autumn Apple Cake

Nectarine Coffee Cake

Fresh summer fruit keeps this Nectarine Coffee Cake moist. Try substituting the nectarines for other seasonal fruit like cherries or pears.

Coffee cake with fresh nectarines
The nectarine tree in the front yard is pregnant with fruit. The firm, juicy orbs are days away from their peak ripeness.  The bounty came late this year. The heavy clusters already snapping a large branch, an annual occurrence.  I should cull them in March, but I feel guilty not giving each one the chance to ripen.  A few sun-soaked fruit are ready to burst.  This weekend, I plucked two of these soft, round globes of goodness and consumed them sun-warmed and straight from the tree – juice dripping unabashedly down my chin. A handful more made it into this moist nectarine coffee cake.


Nectarine Coffee Cake

  • Servings: 6-8 Servings
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Fresh summer nectarines keep this cake moist. Try substituting the nectarines for other seasonal fruit like cherries or pears.


Ingredients

    Cake
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ¼ lbs. nectarines, cut into ½ inch wedges
  • Topping
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • ⅓ cup apricot jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9” springform pan. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in flour (batter with be thick).
  2. Spread batter in prepared pan. Press nectarine wedges halfway into batter in concentric circles, spacing slightly apart. Combine remaining sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkle over nectarines. Bake until cake is golden and tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Release pan sides. Cool for 10 minutes.
  3. Warm apricot jam in microwave 30 seconds. Sieve jam and brush over coffee cake. Serve warm or room temperature.

Adapted from Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake