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Double Chocolate Layer Cake

February 13, 2014

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, it’s been a long year. A year in which time slowed down to a stand-still, but I still managed to be shocked by how quickly my baby became a toddler and how bright the sun is when the clouds clear.

I made this cake, an old favorite, for Stella’s second birthday back in (cough) September (when I started writing this post). It felt right to make something tried and true, something I could bring to (nut-free) daycare, something I knew she would devour (she asks for chocolate before breakfast). It’s been a year too lacking in celebration, comfort and carefree chocolate consumption. But things are turning around. It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, where chocolate is king and love the kingdom. Let’s let it reign.

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So here’s to being two, to the New Year, and to chocolate. Because no matter how sticky things get, we could all use a little chocolate cake to make things stickier.


This is the CLASSIC. If someone you care about loves chocolate, and there’s any reason to celebrate (birthday? graduation? redundancy?), there’s a reason to make this cake. Recipe will make 10 slices. Keeps on the counter/in the fridge for a few days at least. You can freeze the cake for a few months and then whip up fresh frosting when you’re ready to layer and serve.


1 3/4 cup flour

1 3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + a few dashes of vinegar or lemon juice, left to sit and curdle 5 mins)

1/2 cup oil (such as canola or vegetable)

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup hot coffee

FROSTING (makes enough to frost the outside only…double to use in the middle, too)

4 ounces (115 grams) dark chocolate

3/4 cup (175 grams) butter, softened

1 egg yolk

2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream (optional)

2 cups icing sugar

2 tbsp strong coffee (optional….you can use more cream/milk/sour cream instead)

heavy cream, whipped (for filling)

photo 2Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sifting is important, because cocoa tends to lump.

In another bowl, mix the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Gently mix these ingredients into the flour mixture. Once combined, add the hot coffee and stir until just combined.

Divide batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 35 – 40 mins, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before removing from the pan.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: melt chocolate in a double boiler (or very slowly in a pot, being careful not to let it stick and burn); allow the chocolate to cool a bit. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with a handheld mixer for a few minutes until fluffy. Add egg yolk, and beat for another few minutes. Mix in the cream (if using) and icing sugar. Beat in the chocolate and coffee (or alternative liquid). Be careful not to overbeat.

The frosting makes enough to frost just the outside of the layer cake…I think it’s best filled with barely sweetened whipped cream.

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Plum Torte

February 6, 2014

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This cake converted a non-believer. Someone who, before tasting this cake, did not see the beauty in a kitchen counter top cake with a crumbly knife perched casually, innocently nearby.

I hadn’t planned to make this cake, but I couldn’t pass by the plums at the market. Nearly overripe stone fruit usually means I’m making this, a tried and true classic. But that day I wanted something simple and pure, something straightforward. No oil, I wanted butter. No spices. Something to sit on the counter next to a knife, something to warm a cool summer day, something to convert a non-believer.

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Now, I’m planning to make this cake the first chance I get. The next cool summer day, or the next time I see plums at the market. Or the next time someone can’t see the beauty of a cake on the counter with a knife perched innocently nearby.

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Plum Torte

Serves 6 – 8. Adapted from a recipe at Food 52. Serve with plain yogurt at breakfast or tea, or vanilla ice cream/unsweetened whipped cream for dessert. For more simple cakes with fruit, see here, here, here, here, here and here.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) butter
, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 to 12 Italian prune plums
, pitted and halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)

Heat the oven to 350F/180C. Generously butter a 8- or 9-inch spring form pan.

Mix the flour and baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
With handheld beaters or by hand with a fork or whisk, cream the sugar and butter until very light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the flour mixture and the eggs all at once, and beat until combined, scraping down the bowl.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the plum halves, skin side up, on top of the batter in concentric circles. Really shove in as many as you can fit, as the batter will rise up over them.  Sprinkle the batter and fruit lightly with sugar (I used brown).
Bake the torte for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then release the spring and remove the sides. Wait at least 20 minutes before slicing; once cool enough to slice, serve as soon as possible. It’s ridiculous warm, but still amazingly good at room temperature.

Roasted Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart

December 15, 2013

photo 4Rarely do I come across something like this cauliflower tart. It sounds pretty innocent — boring even — but tastes like it knows something you don’t. It is Last-Meal-worthy, the sneaky show-stopper at brunch, the one dish that could convince you that vegetarianism might be tolerable. The kind of dish that makes a Tuesday night feel like a Friday and helps a bottle of wine go down like a glass.

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It’s no secret that cauliflower and cheese make a winning combination (see here). So you can only guess the result of roasting the cauliflower, mixing it with caramelized onions, covering it in various cheeses, cream and truffle oil, and baking it in a flaky tart shell spread with mustard until it’s golden and bubbling.

This tart is ridiculously good and so simple. It’s also easily fiddled with. I used sour cream because I didn’t find mascarpone at the Russian market. The gruyere can be substituted with Swiss, Emmental, cheddar, or a combination. The truffle oil is unnecessary, but if you happen to be the sort of person who has it lying around (and yeah, I’m pretty sure you can sort people that way), why not? The whole crust thing can be left (/scraped) out all together (I’ve seen it happen! Hi, Helen!), and your guests will be just as stunned by the deliciousness of the pile of perfection on their plates. Now that you know the secrets of the perfect cauliflower tart — a dash of Dijon and a lot of cheese —  don’t say I didn’t warn you when she sweeps you off your feet. Innocence be damned.

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Roasted Cauliflower and Caramelized Onion Tart

Many thanks are due to Helen for introducing me to this gem. Adapted from a recipe Smitten Kitchen adapted from Bon Appetit March 2007

1 small head of cauliflower (about 1 lb or equivalent of a larger head of cauliflower), cut into 1-inch flowerets
1 refrigerated pie crust or a homemade tart shell
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 eggs
1 cup mascarpone cheese or sour cream
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère or Emmental cheese (plus a little more for sprinkling)
2 tablespoons truffle oil (optional)

Make cauliflower: Preheat oven to 425°F/190°C. Toss cauliflower with a few glugs of olive oil, salt and pepper in large bowl. Spread on rimmed baking sheet, and roast 15 minutes before turning florets over and roasting until brown and tender, another 15 minutes in my oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Meanwhile, prepare the onions. Heat a glug of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until onion is a deep golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Prepare the filling by whisking together the eggs, mascarpone (or sour cream), cream, nutmeg and stirring in the grated cheese.

Prepare the tart: roll the dough out to fit a large tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the pan. You may need to par-cook the crust, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Spread the bottom of the crust with mustard. Spread the caramelized onion over crust, then arrange cauliflower over the onion. Set the tart on a rimmed baking sheet (in case of leaks). Pour the cheese mixture over filling in tart pan, sprinkle with more cheese if desired. Bake until tart is golden and center is set, about 40 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before serving.

The tart (or its various components) can be made a day ahead and gently reheated before serving.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

December 2, 2013

photo 4 It’s been a big, long year with far too many uncertainties and far too few blog posts. Since the last time I wrote (in June, I’m embarrassed to remind you), lots has changed but some important things have stayed the same. Things like how much I love a good cake hanging around the house. Seeing as Stella and I are back in the States for a drawn-out Christmas vacation, seeing as I just finished law school and seeing as we have only six weeks of wintery, oven-appropriate weather ahead of us, the time is ripe for baking.

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There is something so quintessentially American about coffee cake. Maybe it’s the fact that you can get it in most diners, or maybe it’s because you have to be American to know there’s no coffee in it. It seemed the perfect first thing to bake, to break me in again. I haven’t had the time, place or wherewithal to bake in a long time. Making this cake reminded me of why I love baking so much: the cinnamon smell seeping through the house, the well-worn measuring spoons, the uselessness and necessity of it. The time it takes, the bowls it breaks, the used knife left by the cake stand for those hasty, uncounted slices.

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I don’t remember where this recipe comes from, but I know I’ve been making it for a long time. It’s pretty much the perfect coffee cake: moist and sweet, with a buttery cinnamon-rich streusel in the middle. It’s good cut thick with coffee (hence the name, all you non-natives), tea or milk, or on its own, in tiny, hit-and-run slices. It’s perfect for Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. For coming home and missing home. For those times when we are just lucky enough that, even with everything in motion, the important things stay the same.

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1/4 light brown sugar

1/4 white sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (1/2 stick // 55 grams) butter, cold in small chunks

optional: 1 apple, chopped finely and/or 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts


2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup (1 stick // 110 grams) butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 cup sour cream (or plain, full-fat yogurt)

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Butter thoroughly a bundt pan or square cake pan.

To make the streusel, combine all the ingredients except the butter to mix. Add in the chunks of butter and use your fingers to mix it in, until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Add the chopped apple and/or walnuts if using. Set aside.

To make the cake, in a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light, then add the eggs and mix to combine. Add the sour cream, vanilla and milk and mix well. Add the flour mixture to this, and mix to combine.

Spoon 1/2 of the dough into the prepared cake tin. Sprinkle 1/2 of the streusel on top, then the remaining dough and, finally, the remaining streusel. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until an inserted tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan before inverting onto a cake plate.

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Baked Chicken Parmesan

June 11, 2013


It’s exam season again here in Law School Land, which means I need lots of food but don’t have lots of time to make it. We’ve got scrambled eggs down to a science and the Thai restaurant’s number memorized. But sometimes we need something more substantial, something to linger over. photo-3

In the spirit of legal disclaimers, this isn’t actually chicken parm. There’s no frying and no parmesan. But there’s no elegant way to say baked chicken covered in tomato puree and cheese, so I borrowed something familiar. You could come up with your own name, a la Steak Diane. I could call it Tuesday Chicken because it ends up on the table at least that often. Why? Because I love chicken (thighs), mozzarella and baked things and Stella, my 20-month-old, loves it, too. If that wasn’t reason enough, it takes approximately 3 minutes to prepare. Stick it in the oven, and a few Eric Carle books and a glass of wine later, you’ll have a bubbling, perfumed cheesy mess of deliciousness ready for dinner.


I’m not sure what the ratio of nature to nurture is here, but Stella has taken to dipping her bread in the sauce, sucking it out, then begging for “mo dipping mummy, peas?” Pretty soon she’ll insist that she partake in the pinot noir because honestly, mummy, one simply must accompany such fine flavors with proper libation.

So if you ever find yourself pressed for the time or energy to prepare a many-coursed meal for yourself or your family, I hope this baked chicken dish consoles you: it is possible to cook well on a Tuesday. Every Tuesday. Just cover meat with cheese and bake. Dip bread in sauce. Repeat. It’s simple math. Or is that physics? I’ll go ask Stella.





Let’s say this is enough for 4 adults…adjust proportions accordingly! Would make a killer sub the next day. Truth.

12 chicken thighs (or 6 breasts, or a mixture)

approx 1/2 – 1 cup tomato passata

mozzarella (I use bocconcini but shredded would work, too)

10 basil leaves, torn

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. In a large oven-proof dish, spread a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce on the bottom and lay the chicken pieces around evenly. Spoon a bit more sauce on top of the chicken (as in the photos), then cover with as much mozzarella (or similar melting cheese[s]) as you like. Sprinkle with fresh basil or oregano and some chili flakes if you want. I usually sprinkle a little olive oil on top, too, but it may just be habit.

Baked in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes. It will be ready when the cheese is melted, the sauce is bubbling, and the juices of the chicken run clear when pierced.

Serve with bread for dipping, salad for conscience and red wine for baby.


Stuffed Fresh Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto

June 3, 2013


It’s summer in my mind. Sydney is still graciously warm, though the days are distressingly short. Which, to me, means one can start drinking earlier. And when I do, I dream of summer. Of the beach and drawn-out twilight. Of hurrying to save hands from melting ice cream cones and dinner outside. And I wait.

These gorgeous little nuggets are perfect for summer, the only season when figs are not just worth eating, they’re worth eating every day. (More about my love and ideas for figs here).


In summer, I buy figs by the case. Or, depending where I am, pick buckets’ worth off the trees. (The smell of the fig trees and the white goo that gets on your fingers is almost better than the figs themselves.) Figs don’t last long and aren’t as sweet eaten cold from the refrigerator. And as much as certain Europeans beg to differ, they needn’t be peeled. They are perfect alone, but are almost too beautiful not to show off.

On summer evenings, I stuff fresh figs with cheese, wrap them in meat and serve them with cold wine and warm bread. The crunch of the tiny seeds and gooey sweet of the flesh compliments the bite of goat blue cheese, which I spread generously in the middle of a halved fig, and the salty of the prosciutto, which I use to seal the fig back up again.

My only problem? It’s winter in Australia, and figs are 6 months away. Sure, I can substitute them with dried figs. But I’d rather not. Some things are worth waiting for.


Fresh Figs Stuffed with Cheese and Wrapped in Prosciutto

Yeah, it’s true — the title of this recipe is the entire recipe.

Here are some pointers:

You can make little crosses in the figs (as in the photo above), but make sure that whichever way you decide to cut the fruit, don’t cut them through. You want them to be able to come back together again.

Sprinkle with fresh herbs (I like thyme) and/or ground black pepper.

I think chevre and Gorgonzola work especially well, but you can use any spreadable, strong cheese. I’ve never tried this, but I think if you took some good fresh ricotta and mixed it up with some grated Parmesan and herbs, it would make a really great filling here. You could also substitute mascarpone for an even richer version.

Serve as an appetizer with cold white or rose, and bread or, better, focaccia. Perfect before a pasta dish like this one.


Orange Poppy Seed Cake

April 26, 2013


Sometimes the only cure for homesickness is distraction. There are little salves — Skype, colder weather, some of the accents on Family Guy — that make far seem closer only to disappear, leaving an imprint that you realize didn’t match the original to begin with.

After a brief trip home, the events in Boston of the last few weeks have made me miss it in a way I’d never felt before and I can’t quite explain without sounding childish, defensive and absurd. Almost as if I wanted to take it back and yell, “Mine!” Almost as if, from such a distance, I could watch over the city from above and that that somehow helped.

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Clearly, I needed some old-fashioned comfort food.

Sure, I could make Boston baked beans or Boston cream pie, my dad’s mushrooms or my mom’s bourekas. I wouldn’t be the first to tell you that food can be comforting, and maybe all of those things would be. But they wouldn’t be the same.

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So rather than pine for Santarpio’s pizza or any decent clam chowder, I’ve decided to appreciate Australia’s bounty while I’m here.

Australia does meat right so dinner is steak, lots of steak. The lettuce and tomatoes here actually taste like lettuce and tomatoes, so they’re pretty much always on the menu, too. We’ve recently discovered a place nearby that sells dozens of interesting and tantalizing salts (from porcini to espresso to vintage merlot, etc.), so they’re on the table. And we have yet to go wrong with Australian wine, despite the fact that we choose it based almost entirely on the 4-1

So what does all this have to do with orange poppy seed cake? Nothing. I made it because I was served a similar cake (that Stella devoured) at a lunch last weekend and I wanted to recreate it. It has a history that isn’t even worth mentioning. It does not remind me of Boston or family or Cape Codders or fried clams. It’s just a really, really good cake. And sometimes? That’s comfort 3


This makes a lot of cake, which is never a bad thing. I didn’t have a big enough bundt pan, so I made a small bundt and two 7″ cakes. You can definitely make it a day or two ahead…the glaze needs to soak in anyways. Which reminds me: don’t skip over the glaze. Without it, this will just be a poppy seed cake. Again, never a bad thing, but not as good as the original. Serves 16, and makes an ideal offering for breakfast, brunch, tea or dessert. Adapted from a recipe found on She Loves Simple via Tastespotting.


1 cup (2 sticks/250 grams) butter, softened
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1/3 cup orange juice
3 cups flour
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1 1/4 cups sour cream (or full-fat yogurt)


1/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup orange juice

To make the cake:

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Grease a large bundt pan or a few smaller cake pans.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar for a minute or so. Beat in the eggs, then the orange juice.

In another bowl, combine the flour, poppy seeds, baking soda and salt. Add this mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the sour cream, stirring until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake for anywhere from 40 – 60 minutes (depending on size of pan) until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. If the cake is not cooked reduce heat, cover top with foil to prevent burning and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Let cake cool before removing from pan.

To make the glaze:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter, and stir in the sugar, and orange juice until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil for 1 minute stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Pour the still-warm glaze over the cake. It will take a few minutes to soak in, so go slow and keep adding until it’s all soaked in.

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