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.

Nectarine Bruschetta

Nectarine Bruschetta is an easy-to-assemble, no-oven-required, summer appetizer that takes advantage of the season’s bounty and pairs well with white wine, rosé and bubbles.

Nectarine and Ricotta Bruschetta

Just as July 4th in my neighborhood is certain to be punctuated with a cacophony of illegal fireworks, the same holiday never fails to produce my nectarine tree’s first juicy orbs ready for plucking. The harvest is brief, yet prolific, and I’m often overwhelmed with the task of making use of this summer bounty.

A warm evening cocktail party and a very pregnant tree resulted in this recipe that’s perfect for summer, taking advantage of the season’s gifts in a simple, no-oven-required, appetizer.


Nectarine Bruschetta

An easy to assemble, summer appetizer that pairs well with white wine and bubbles.


Ingredients

  • 2-3 nectarines, thinly sliced
  • 6-8 basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • ⅔ cup whole milk ricotta
  • 4 Tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 24 toasted baguette slices
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped hazelnuts or pistachios, toasted

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine nectarines, basil and balsamic and set aside.
  2. In another small bowl, combine ricotta, honey, zest, salt and pepper.
  3. To assemble, spread ricotta over baguette slices, arrange 1 or 2 nectarine slices over ricotta and sprinkle with toasted nuts. Serve.

Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun Recipe

Giant Brioche Recipe
When he first came to her with the project, she was hesitant. Would her baking skills hold up under pressure? He was the “meat guy,” contributing a 12-inch, six pound burger to the project. He needed a brioche bun to match. Having never made hamburger buns – let alone a giant bun – she was daunted.

A cake pan wouldn’t be large enough – her largest, a springform, was a mere 10-inches across. She settled on a 12-inch sauté pan and found a working recipe to build from. Three test buns, plenty of jokes about her giant, fluffy, white buns and a few tweaks later, her contribution was perfected.

Their giant burger raised over $250 for charity.


Giant Brioche Hamburger Bun

  • Servings: One 12-inch Bun
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If your culinary adventures ever call for a giant 12-inch bun, I have the ideal recipe for you.


Ingredients

    Starter
  • 2/3 cup milk (heated to 107⁰ F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour (3 ¼ oz.)
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • Dough
  • 3 cups plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (14 oz.)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • Egg Wash
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Line the sides and bottom of a 12” sauté pan (with straight sides and oven-safe handle) with parchment paper. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine ¾ cup all-purpose flour and sugar and stir in yeast mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 30 minutes (the mixture should appear fluffy and covered with bubbles).
  3. With the dough hook, mix in the remaining flour, salt, and eggs. Once fully combined, continue kneading for 4-5 minutes.
  4. With the machine running, slowly add the softened butter, two tablespoons at a time, and knead for an additional 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. (The dough will be very soft and sticky).
  5. Oil a large bowl. Scrape the dough into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm area (proofing drawer or near a cooling stove) for 1 ½ hours or until doubled in size.
  6. Punch the dough down and scrape onto a lightly-floured surface. Fold over a few times and shape into a round disk. Transfer to prepared pan, flattening the dough until it touches the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm area for 45 minutes until dough is slightly domed.
  7. Heat oven to 400⁰ F. Whisk together remaining egg and water. Bush the egg gently over the bun and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes at 400⁰ F. Reduce oven to 350⁰ F. and bake for 20 minutes longer until golden brown and internal temperature reads 200⁰ F. Cover with foil if browning too quickly.
  9. Cool, slice and enjoy!

* adapted from The Spruce Eats Buttery Brioche Hamburger Buns

Giant Brioche Bun

Summertime Sangria

Red Sangria

I have no issues leaving family behind for most holidays, traveling to far-flung destinations (Christmas in London anyone?), but there are two holidays that keep me home each year. The first is Halloween, which guarantees a few hundred local kids banging on my door, screaming “trick or treat” through the screen. It gives me instant flashbacks to my own unsupervised childhood wilding nights of All Hallows Eve a few decades ago.

The second is July 4th, a day and night punctuated with a cacophony of illegal fireworks that makes neighboring Disneyland’s nightly display both superfluous and ineffective. It’s a surround sound and visual extravaganza that reminds one of a middle-East war zone.

This 4th, I combined forces with my neighbors for a street party BBQ. For libations, Don and Carlos brought 4 flavors of homemade limoncello, Susie made white sangria and I brought out my go-to red version packed with oranges, lemons, apples and strawberries.


Summertime Sangria

  • Servings: 12-14 glasses
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During the warmer months, this is my fruity and refreshing go-to alcoholic beverage to quench a thirsty crowd.


Ingredients

  • 1 – 1 ½ oranges, cut into ¼ inch slices and then cut crosswise into chunks
  • 1 lemon, cut into ¼ inch slices and then cut crosswise into chunks
  • 1 apple, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup fresh orange juice
  • ½ cup Triple Sec or Cointreau
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • 2 bottles red wine
  • 1 ½ cups frozen strawberries
  • 1-2 cups lemon-lime soda (7-up or Sprite)

Directions

  1. Combine orange, lemon, apple, sugar, orange juice, Triple Sec and Brandy in a large container. Stir for a few minutes until sugar is completely dissolved. Add red wine and refrigerate for at least six hours and up to 12.
  2. Add frozen strawberries (to act as ice cubes) and lemon-lime soda and serve over additional ice, if needed.

Chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

A plate of chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

From L.A. to Costa Rica to Hawaii to Huntington Beach to Napa to San Francisco to The Bahamas. I’ve been missing my own bed – and my kitchen – these past two months. Now that I’m back, I’m content to sleep under a duvet I know, putter in my familiar kitchen and lazily read a book curled up on a fur-covered couch with the kitties. This is home.

These macaroons, baked this morning, are a relatively straightforward recipe for me – not my usual over-complication. They travel well and, with special recipients in mind, I thought they would survive the journey unscathed.


Chocolate-dipped Coconut Macaroons

Chewy coconut kisses dipped in dark chocolate.


Ingredients

  • 1 ⅓ cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons almond flour, toasted**
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 oz. dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine coconut, sugar, toasted almond flour, all-purpose flour and salt. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg whites with vanilla and stir into coconut mixture until combined.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silicon baking sheet. Measure rounded 1-Tablespoon mounds of coconut mixture onto sheet pan and bake about 20 minutes, or until macaroons are golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet pan slightly. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  3. Melt ¾ of the chocolate in a small bowl placed in the microwave in 30-second bursts, ideally heating the chocolate to 122⁰ F. Add the remaining ¼ chocolate and stir until slightly thickened, ideally cooling to 90⁰ F. (This process is called tempering and should ensure shiny chocolate that sets quickly). Dip the bottom of each macaroon in the chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Flip upside down and let set until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes.
  4. ** The almond flour is optional. If you don’t have any on hand, omit and increase flour to 2 Tablespoons. I toast my almond flour to bring out the flavor by cooking it in a small pan over a medium-low heat until fragrant.