Melissa's Chocolate Almond Birthday Cake

I'm really good at birthdays. Like, really good. I remember my friends' birthdays, their kids' birthdays and even some of their parents' and spouses' birthdays. I send gifts, sometimes even thoughtful ones. And I love nothing more than to bake a good birthday cake.

And yet, I was looking at the calendar last week and realized that I had missed my own blogging birthday. My first lemon pound cake post landed here February 17, 2014 and got probably 4 views. To those of you who've been with me from the beginning (Mom and Dad), THANK YOU. To those of you who just found me, THANK YOU, too! Blogging has given me a creative outlet and a way to share something that I love with this little world. It has kept me going during some long, lonely weeks when we were new in San Diego and I was still making friends. It's given me a place to track my life through the goods that I bake. We've met Olive and her mom Leigh. I've talked a lot about Stacy. My dad has made an appearance or two. Family, friends and good times have been shared here. Before this starts sounding like my epilogue, let me tell you about this cake.
THIS CAKE, Melissa would write in all caps. And, she would be right. Melissa from Julia's Book Bag makes this gorgeous chocolate almond cake for herself for her January birthday so I thought I'd make it for mine! Well, my blogging birthday, anyway. (THANK YOU, Melissa. Big hugs!) Random fact about Melissa: she grew up on Maui with my daughter's godmother Tatsinda and the first time I met this fabulous blogger was when she was a Laura-Ashley-wearing (complete with matching headband. Dark hair + creamy-Snow-White skin + ruffles + flower prints = just divine) college freshman. And now she's an attorney blogger photographer kick ass mom. I'm pretty sure Melissa rules Washington state. Ooh, Melissa, you should be Mayor! Or Governor! Or Senator!

Back to the cake. Almond cake is a classic Italian dessert which turned out to be fortuitous for me as I happened to be last minute hostess of family dinner this week. In attendance we had 2 D'Amicos and 5 Stabiles (that's Stah'-bee-lay in the old country) and only one of us (Irish heathen that I am!) married into the Italian bloodline: everyone else created it. Sometimes called Nonna Cake for the Italian grandmothers who must have originated almond cake recipes like this one, this is a dense and different dessert. I added almond and vanilla extracts to the recipe Melissa uses and I'd do it again. It's small-ish size does not reflect its larger-than-life taste. Marzipanian with a dark chocolate twist, this cake is a delicious marriage of deep flavors with a satisfying almond-mealy texture. We served it with ice cream, but I heartily recommend a brandy- or almond-flavored dollop of whipped cream instead.
Any way you slice it, this has been a fantastic, surprising year and I am fortunate beyond measure to share my baking world with you all. Thank you for reading, commenting (when the functionality works) and supporting me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I heart you.

Truly, madly, deeply yours,


Melissa's Chocolate Almond Birthday Cake
6 oz. Ghirardelli Double Chocolate chips chocolate
12 T unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 C sugar
4 eggs, separated
1/3 C ground almonds or almond flour (Melissa uses this kind of almond flour, so I did, too)
1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract

4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
3 T butter
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C plus 2 T heavy cream

Make the cake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter and flour on 9-inch cake pan or spring form pan.
3. Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool.
4. Whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks and set them in the fridge.
5. Cream the butter with the sugar and then add the egg yolks one by one until thoroughly mixed in, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
6. Add the extracts and the melted chocolate.
7. Add the almond and all-purpose flours.
8. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the mixture until it all comes together.
9. Pour your batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes until center of cake springs back when touched but still appears moist.
10. Cool the cake for 2 hours or up to overnight before icing it.

Make the icing:
1. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over low heat, whisking fairly regularly until melted. Set aside until the cake is cooled.
2. When the cake is cool, steadily pour the icing over top of the cake and spread gently, just until the icing flows over the sides of the cake. It should continue to flow down the sides a bit - sort of like lava.

Let the cake set and slice into slivers. Eat slowly and savor. Mmmm. 

Mousse au Chocolat

Bonjour! C'est moi, Allison. Et, je parle le Francais aujourd hui. Kidding!

It's Valentine's Week and everything is all chocolate and red and French in the world and I may be a wee bit over-caffeinated overexcited.

J'adore Valentine's Day. Not because my husband and I celebrate it, per se, but because the red & pink, the chocolate, the HEARTS! It all makes me feel so light and happy. Ooh, what else is light and happy? Chocolate Mousse!

This dessert was all the rage in the late 1970s and early 80s. What happened? It's so lovely and light, so rich and distinct. I'm not sure how mousse became a cake filling and not a stand alone dessert. My mom made it for dinner parties when I was younger and I recall how decadent and exciting it was as she spooned it into champagne glasses or poured it into our casserole dish. Mom always made mousse the proper way - with eggs - but I went another direction. Classic chocolate mousse is made with frothy, gorgeous egg whites and sometimes cooked yolks. More often than not, the eggs are not cooked at all (oh! There's my answer! Now that the US is all litiginous, we don't serve raw eggs.). Anyhoo, I decided to make a truly creamy version and here it is.

Certainly you can use this as a filling (chill for 30 minutes before spreading on cake layers and then chill after you frost your crumb layer to help the cake set up), but it is so nice all on its own. A little bourbon whipped cream (recipe below) topped it nicely, but so could crushed chocolate wafers or chocolate curls. Or raspberries. Or cherries. Oh, I could wax on and on. Just make this one, you Fancy Lovelies!

Happy Valentine's Day!



Chocolate Mousse
Serves 6
2 C heavy whipping cream
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits
1 t vanilla
1/4 t sea salt

Whip 1-1/2 cups of the cream until just holding the form of your beaters - it should be a bit soft and pillowy. Set aside.

Bring 1/2 cup of the cream just to a boil on the stove top and immediately whisk in the bittersweet chocolate. Stir in the vanilla and sea salt. Let sit about 5 minutes to cool.

Working with your mixer on low, add the chocolate mixture into the whipped cream a little bit at a time (in 3 scoops). Divide your mousse into 6 cups or champagne flutes (you can use a piping bag) and refrigerate about an hour before serving. The longer the mousse is in the fridge, the firmer it will be on your spoon. Dollop a tiny spoonful of bourbon whipped cream and enjoy!

Bourbon Whipped Cream
1 C heavy whipping cream
2 T good-quality bourbon (I used Russell's reserve)
1-1/2 T brown sugar
1 t vanilla

Beat the cream, bourbon, sugar and vanilla at high speed until soft peaks form in the cream. Chill or serve immediately.

Molten Chocolate Cake (gf)

While some of us think of  St. Valentine's Day as a Hallmark Holiday, it's not actually devoid of history. Some records count eleven different saints named Valentine: one of them a Palestinian woman. It seems the saint we celebrate with cupids and arrows was put to death on 14th February, 3rd Century AD for marrying Christians to each other and for causing the general displeasure of then-emperor Claudius by advocating for the rights of Christians within the Roman Empire.

I can't be sure, but I don't think that when St. Valentine was saving the Christians, he planned on having a chocolate-and-roses holiday celebrated in his honor. Maybe, though, he would have approved of the sentiment behind it all, that of spreading love. In my humble experience, roses are nice but chocolate IS love.

As it turns out, my very special heart-friend Leigh was in town last weekend and as a natural expression of my affection, I had planned to bake for her and her beautiful family who flew all the way from Virginia to see us. Before their arrival, I had visions of morning coffee cakes and afternoon cookies. The thing about baking is that it takes time. And time is a precious commodity when you're spending time with someone you only see once a year. You know?

One day during their visit we were all hanging out at our local beach park when I gently excused myself and made my way home. Thinking of Leigh, Jeremy, Olive and Delilah, I melted, whipped and folded furiously (well, I slowed down for the folding) to get a gorgeous chocolate batter for molten chocolate cake mixed for a quick bake after dinner. After we ate, Leigh and I poured the batter into buttered-and-sugared ramekins and baked away. Actually, I did all that while she peered over my shoulder asking what I was doing each step of the way. This is how much I love Leigh: anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I allow NO ONE in the baking lab when I'm in there. I mean, no one. But, somehow, for Leigh, it wasn't even an exception. It was fun. Sort of. (Hee, hee.)

Back to the cakes, which turned out light in texture and rich in flavor. The cake recipe I got from Zoe Bakes, who created it as a flour-free recipe for Passover. The molten centers came from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Rose's Heavenly Cakes. Both are easier than I thought they'd be to make and both came out perfectly, despite my rushing through.

These were so good, so filled with love, that everyone practically licked their bowls clean. What an incredible feeling it was to share not only what I love to do, but to have everyone love it as I did. Warm fuzzies all around!



P.S. Leigh, come back!!!!!!!!! I can't wait another year. Wah, wah, wah!

Molten Chocolate Cake
Yield: 9 servings
10 oz. 60% Ghirardelli double chocolate chips
1/4 C cocoa, plus more for garnishing cakes, if desired
10 T unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering ramekins
1/4 t salt
6 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting ramekins
9 pure chocolate truffles, recipe follows

For the cakes:
1. Make the truffles and set aside (see recipe at the end of this post).
2. Butter 9 4-oz. ramekins and then coat with sugar. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in the center of the oven.

4. Place the chocolate in a double boiler or glass bowl over a pan water. Once the water is simmering, turn off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt.

5. Whisk in the cocoa powder, butter and salt until completely smooth.

6. In a stand mixer or separate bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Reduce the speed and gradually add the sugar. Once it is all added turn the speed to medium-high and whip to medium-soft peaks.

7. Mix 1/3 of the whites into the chocolate to loosen it up and then fold in another 1/3 of the whites. Repeat with the last of the whites.

8. Spoon the batter evenly among the prepared ramekins. (I
t should go about 1/2 way up the sides.)
9. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake the cakes for about 8 minutes. The cake should peel away from the sides of the ramekins and look fairly solid to the eye, but jiggle in the center a bit.
10. Remove from the oven and let the cake sit for about 3 minutes before inverting onto a plate.
11. Dust with cocoa, if desired. As always, I recommend a scoop of Vanilla Haagen Dazs. Just sayin'.

Chocolate Truffles
From Rose Levy Beranbaum's Molten Chocolate Souffle and Lava Cakes Recipe
2 oz. dark chocolate
1/4 C plus 2 T heavy cream

For the truffles:
1. Melt the chocolate until just melted. Set aside. 
2. Heat the cream on the stove top until just before it boils.
3. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk together. Let sit at room temp for about 4 hours or put into the fridge for an hour or so to congeal.

Cherry Oat Bars

Everywhere we look in the month of February, there is chocolate. Delicious, soft, velvety, bittersweet chocolate. Melting chocolate. Solid chocolate. Soft chocolate cake with buttery chocolate frosting. It's like my very own version of heaven come to life.

And yet...

One must have other passions, n'est-ce pas? Bah, oui, bien sur!

Cherries are high in Vitamin C & A and potassium and that's exactly what I concentrate on when I eat these bars. I also ponder the healthful oats and walnuts, the molasses (iron) in brown sugar and the whole grains in the flour. And then I add vanilla ice cream and really dig in. Hehe.

These are like brown-sugary-oaty granola/cookie bars with a gorgeous soft jammy center. They go as well in lunch boxes as they do at tea time. They ship pretty well, too! You can even substitute 1-1/2 cups of your favorite jam if you don't want to go to the trouble of making the cherry jam, although I cannot promise mouth-watering results. Wink, wink.

A nice alternative to chocolate, cherries also happen to be red, like the boxes of Valentine chocolates we see everywhere. And baking something in your own kitchen says love way better than a card. Dontcha think?



Cherry Oat Bars
Yields 9-16 servings

Cherry Jam
1-1/2 C dried cherries, lightly chopped
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C boiling water
additional 1/2 C water

1. Place the cherries into a bowl and pour the boiling water over top. Let sit about 30 minutes and drain.

2. In a heavy sauce pan, heat the reconstituted cherries, sugar and additional 1/2 C water over medium low heat. Boil about 15 minutes or until the jam thickens into a pasty texture. You may need to add more water, one tablespoon at a time, until it reaches a thick but spreadable texture. Set aside.

Note: If you use jarred jam, it will spread more easily when heated up, so, either warm it on the stove top or microwave it for about 45 seconds before adding it to the cookie base.

Oat Bars
1-1/2 C whole wheat pastry flour (you can try this with oat or rye flour, too)
1 C oats
1 C firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 C toasted, chopped walnuts
3/4 t kosher salt
3/4 C unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes

3. Preheat your oven to 350.

4. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

5. Cut the butter into the mixture until the dough resembles a coarse meal. I often use my hands and squeeze the butter into the dry ingredients. Once it gets sticky, I stop mixing.

6. Divide the dough into half and press one half into the bottom of an 8"x8" baking pan.

7. Spread the jam over the pressed dough.

8. Pour the remaining crumbly dough on top of the jam. You can even the top a bit, but no need to make it perfect.

9. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. 

10. Cool completely and cut into 9 good-sized bars, or 16 smaller bars.