Josh’s Pistachio Cake (by way of the River Cafe)

A few weeks ago, Josh at The Food Section posted this recipe for Pistachio Cake on his site and somehow that image of the greenish yellowish loaf coated with nuts seared its way into my brain and flashed into my consciousness on a semi-hourly basis. I received electroshock therapy and I now sleep with a wooden stick in my mouth, but I’m recovered and I have a pistachio cake to show for it.

The cake comes from The River Cafe cookbook. I had the chance to buy this book at The Strand a few months ago, but I didn’t. Now they’re all sold out. Amazon has it (I ordered it) but it’ll take 14 days to deliver. To quote Veruca Salt: I want it now now now! (Sidenote: my favorite professor from college, Rick Rambuss, told me once that he and his partner Chuck cooked exclusively from The River Cafe cookbooks and that I should look into them. How right he was!)

Lisa came over last night and we tackled this cake. I was going to bring it to the Peter Brook brunch, but we ate so many slices that no longer seemed feasible. The recipe is simple. The most exciting step is the grinding of the almonds and the pistachios in the food processor:


The most questionable step, in my opinion, is the addition of seeds from a vanilla bean to the butter sugar mixture. This is the second or third time I’ve added an expensive vanilla bean to a baked good and I can’t really say it makes a world of difference in the result. I’m not doubting the power and beauty of vanilla beans: I love them in rice pudding and fresh homemade ice cream. But somehow in baked goods, their beany essence dissipates and I wonder: “Why didn’t I just use vanilla extract?” Perhaps my tongue isn’t sophisticated enough to taste them in the finished product.

But alas, look at this finished product:


Gorgeous, no? I love the reds and the greens of the pistachios layered on top. The lemon glaze gave it a nice kick, though I wonder what a pure pistachio cake (no lemons) would taste like? I may need to look into Clotilde’s archives because I do seem to remember something about pistachio paste and that may be the means to just such an end. (After all, almond cake requires almond paste.)

In any case, thanks Josh for this recipe! I pistachiOWE you one!

Chocolate Worship: Jacques Torres’s Mudslide Cookies

“Well I don’t want no Anna Zabba

Don’t want no Almond Joy

There ain’t nothing better

Suitable for this boy

Well it’s the only thing

That can pick me up

Better than a cup of gold

See only a chocolate Jesus

Can satisfy my soul.”

– Tom Waits, “Chocolate Jesus”


Chocolate lovers are strange people. Sensualists, they tremble with excitement at the mere mention of rich, oozing, glistening chocolate. Are you trembling now? Perverts, all of you! Out with ye!

I am not a chocolate lover. Like smoking, heavy drinking, and public sex, chocolate is too sinful for my conservative tastes. Give me something bright and lemony, something fruity, and I’m content. Chocolate, in my humble opinion, is boring. Even the best chocolate–if I dare say it–tastes too similar to the worst chocolate. Chocolate is chocolate. Leave me out of it.

But I am surrounded by chocolate lovers. The world is populated by chocolate lovers. How can we be chocolate lovers if we can’t eat M&Ms? That made no sense but it’s fun to sing.

Two chocolate lovers deserve chocolate this week: one is a teacher and the other is Lauren, my old roommate. Lauren’s coming on Wednesday. My teacher’s birthday was last week and it’s been disclosed that she loves chocolate. I have her class tomorrow. The impetus was too great: I made Jacque’s Chocolate Mudslides. (Click those words for the link to the recipe.)

Have you had these? Have you made these? Are you aware of these?

Even for a chocolate-hater like me, these are pretty special. When I tell you how much chocolate goes into them, you won’t believe me. Are you ready? 38 oz!

This amounted to 10–count them, 10!–bars of chocolate. The lady at the register eyed me suspiciously. “No,” I assured her, “I’m not a chocoalte sensualist—chocolate doesn’t give me orgasms.” She called the manager and I was asked to leave.

Let’s get on with the recipe. We melt 6 oz of unsweetened chocolate and 16 oz of bittersweet chocolate of a double-boiler: (for those unfamiliar, fill a pot with water, bring it to a simmer, and put a bowl over it–that’s a double boiler)


Next, it’s your standard butter and sugar beat until its light and fluffy maneuver. Only, I needed a mathematician to figure out to extract 3/8ths a cup of butter from 1/2 a cup of butter (1 stick.) See, the recipe only calls for 3/8ths a cup. A stick of butter is 1/2 a cup. I did the following math:

1/2 cup = 4/8 cup. Thus, 4/8 cup – 3/8 cup = 1/8 cup. So I needed to remove 1/8 a cup. Dividing 1/8 by 4 to get back to 1/2 a cup I determined that I needed to remove 1/4 of the 1/2 a cup. I cut off two Tbs. Where’s your abacus when you need it?

(Meanwhile, there was so little butter involved and so much sugar, that when I turned the mixer on sugar went spraying everywhere—and now it’s all over my feet. I should wash my feet, shouldn’t I.)

After that, you add 5 eggs and 1/2 a cup of flour. That’s it! 1/2 a cup! The least amount of flour you will ever use to yield 20 cookies. After that it’s baking powder, salt, and then the melted chocolate. Then you stir in the chopped remaining chocoalte and walnuts. Pour on to a parchment lined cookie sheet and refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes.

Five minutes later (I was impatient), I took the sheet out and put parchment over the chilled chocolate and flipped it upside down. This is what I saw:


Here I was asked to divide this into 20 squares and to roll each square into a ball. This was a gooey, sticky, unpleasant (by my standards) task that took some time. I placed these chocolate balls on parchment lined cookie sheets and then flattened them a little:


Actually, as you can see by this picture, this one was a Silpat lined cookie sheet—the other had parchment paper. And I should tell you here—the Silpat sheet cookies came out far better than the parchment paper cookies. Ok, maybe not far better, but the parchment paper cookies had burnt bottoms.

They went in a 400 degree oven for 15 – 25 minutes. I say 15 – 25 because that’s what Jacques says and I found it a bit disconcerting. How do you know when they’re done? He says they should be crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Ummm, Jacques, how can you tell that looking in your oven window?

But I took them out after 17 minutes and I think that was a good choice. The cookies cooled for a while, and I took a bite:


Mmm, see that melted chocolate in the middle, oozing out and perfuming the air with its primal chocolatey scent. I felt my body quiver with satisfaction, my hair flying back in the wind, my pelvis thrusting like…


I’ll Never Give Up My Rugelach

If we were in psychoanalysis (and who says we’re not?) we might draw connections between my urge to cook and an unconscious need to mother myself. I wonder if this is true of many cooks? The logic works like this: as a child you are fed and nurtured by your mother–before she’s anything else, she’s a food source (see: milky breast). My mother, it should be said, had milk fever and couldn’t breast feed me. But her role as food giver is still embedded somewhere in my psyche.

As I aged and became more self-sufficient I became more and more capable of feeding myself. I remember putting Ellio’s pizzas in the toaster oven and feeling proud of myself. I always wanted an Easy Bake Oven: was that my effeminite side peeking through early or a premature desire to mother myself? (Tangential question: why ARE Easy Bake Ovens only given to girls, not boys? I know what the feminists will say!)

What does this have to do with rugelach?

Well mom buys lots of rugelach for the house. At least she used to: apricot and raisin. There’d be tubs from TooJay’s sitting in our kitchen that we could snack on in the afternoon. This is true of other cookies too: black and white cookies and, my favorite, rainbow cookies. Mom is a source of cookies! Thus, living all motherless up here in New York (mom’s in Florida) I make cookies in an attempt to mother myself.

(Session Over. Fee? $800.)

See, this is particularly relevant because I don’t like rugelach. I’d eat it out of starvation or simply not to let it go to waste, but I never loved the rugelach mom had out at home. So why did I make it last night? Was I trying to mother myself in a time of need?

Perhaps. But also, the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe and pictures (form her Parties! book) looked marvelous. And I knew everyone at school was sad this week (see “Sad Week” post below) so I wanted to bring in something elaborate and plentiful to cheer them up. Rugelach was the answer.

How to describe rugelach for those who’ve never had it? Do you exist? Have you never had rugelach? It’s a rolled cookie filled with jam and other treats that render the too-often dry dough tolerable.

The Barefoot Contessa’s filling consists of raisins, walnuts, brown sugar and regular sugar:


It’s a lovely, comforting combination. These are all things that would go well with oatmeal so you know it’s mmm mmm good. (Oh wait, that’s Campbell’s soup.)

The biggest challenge I encountered making rugelach was rolling the dough. Making the dough was a cinch: combine butter and cream cheese in the mixer, beat together, then add sugar and flour and you’re done. Dump it out, make a ball, and cut it in four. Wrap each piece in plastic and refrigerate one hour.

One hour later I took the first piece out, floured my counter top, and attempted to roll a 9-inch circle. That barely happened. My circle was more like a trapezoid. Pieces of dough thinned out and holes were torn. I almost gave up. But I somehow patched it together and decided to go forward anyway: spreading 2 Tbs of apricot jam (I used apricot ginger jam from Whole Foods) across the dough then sprinkling 1/2 cup of the filling over it. It looked something like this:


Once you get this far, the hard part’s over. Now you cut this into quarters and cut each quarter into thirds. (It’s easier than it sounds.) Then the fun part: you roll the fat outer edge of each wedge towards the tip and you’re done! Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and continue with 3 dozen more:


Aren’t those pretty? Even eating them raw tasted good. (Yes, yes, I ate a few raw–so sue me!)

They bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. I was nervous because they weren’t turning brown and I didn’t want to overbake them. So I took them out after 22 minutes or so and they were perfect. Look at this gorgeous plate:


And here’s one up close. Want a bite?


These received universal raves at school. So much so, in fact, that one of my teachers, who shall remain nameless to protect her identity, pulled me aside after class and told me she’s having a dinner party on Saturday. “I want you to cater it!” she said. I laughed robustly and said: “I can’t cater it! I’m an amateur!” We negotiated and I ultimately agreed to make dessert which I’m bringing to her place Saturday aternoon. She wants to pay me but I can’t take money from a teacher, can I?

In conclusion, what have we learned? Rugelach is a great temporary substitute for a mother’s love and can help get you cooking gigs for teachers. I’d say that’s a pretty powerful cookie.

What lives in a pineapple under the sea? SHERBET!

First I hook you in with a sexy picture:


Then I tell you a story…

I bought a pineapple last week. I was in Citronelle and a pineapple screamed out to me: “BUY ME! PLEASE, BUY ME!”

I’d never bought a pineapple before. I was on a health kick. I figured buying a whole pineapple and slicing it up would be more economical than buying the tub of already cut pineapple. (Retrospectively, I’m not sure if that’s true.)

So my pineapple sat on my counter, eager to be sliced, eager to be eaten. But I did no such thing. Then Friday rolled around. Lisa was coming over. I had an epiphany: Pineapple Sorbet!

I had no recipe for Pineapple Sorbet and neither did Epicurious. Instead, it had a recipe for Fresh Pineapple Sherbet (I made it linkable so you can find the recipe). All you need is: pineapple, sugar, milk, and a lemon. Oh, and an ice cream maker.

I love my ice cream maker. As the warm weather rolls in, I’ll be using it more and more and more. I will even use it to make things it’s not intended for—like souffle. That’s how much I love it.

So a pineapple. How do you cut a pineapple? I tried a sneak attack:


The pineapple was totally surprised and gave itself up nobly. I sliced it this way for the presentation you saw at the beginning:


(See that Irish Oatmeal next to it? I just bought Irish Oatmeal. I am excited to try it.)

If you are not worried about presentation, you can cut your pinneapple an easier way. Just slice off the top then the skin and cut it into slices. But this was prettier, you must admit.

I had Lisa cut the flesh out while I made a sugar syrup (see recipe):


After that, we put the flesh in a food processor and blitzed. After doing two batches, I can tell you the longer you blitz the easier it is to ge it through the strainer. Lisa did this with a spoon:


After that, you just mix the pineapple gunk with the sugar syrup, the milk and lemon juice and put in the fridge. Let it get cold (Lisa and I watched “The Birds,” but I am furious at NetFlix because the first time they sent me “The Birds” the disc was cracked in half, and this time it froze right at the very end. But it’s ok, I watched the documentary and now I know the ending. But still, I was mad!)

I think this post is over. Do you want to see the end product again?


We both really enjoyed this. You have to admit, it’s pretty easy. And a fun way to use a pineapple. I highly recommend it.

Bizarro Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes

&uotMy pantry, on a surface level, would appear well stocked. There’s pasta, there’s rice, there’s beans, there’s flour, there’s sugar, there’s oil, there’s baking soda. You can look in my pantry and think to yourself: “My! Imagine all the glorious things he can make with this!”

But when put to the test, my pantry failed me. This happened Monday night. I have a new Monday night ritual. Because I’ve spoiled my Tuesday playwriting workshop week after week with home cooked treats, I now feel obligated to bake something for them on a regular basis. They expect it. “What are you bringing, tomorrow?” my workshop classmates ask me. “I DON’T KNOW! LEAVE ME ALONE!” I scream and run into the bathroom crying. (I’m very dramatic in the Dramatic Writing program).

So this past Monday, at 11 pm, after directing a scene for directing class and writing a 10 page paper comparing “Uncle Vanya” to “The Wood Demon” I set upon making a baked good. I flipped through my many baked goods cookbooks and found, to my dismay, that I didn’t have the ingredients for 99% of the recipes. I needed coconut, I needed cream, I needed marzipan, I needed lemons. I just didn’t have those things.

What I do have plenty of is butter. And so when I stumbled upon Nigella Lawson’s ;Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes” I was intrigued. The ingredients were incredibly basic and the end result sounded so exotic.

Now I must tell you here that my brother is sleeping in the living room right now so I can’t turn the light on to take the book off the shelf to tell you the recipe beat by beat. I can do that for you in the comments for it at a later date if you BEG ME and reveal DEEP PERSONAL SECRETS ABOUT YOURSELF.

What I will do is give you a very basic narrative. First, you burn the butter. It’s this much butter in a saucepan at medium heat:


You let it cook until it turns dark golden brown. This is a fun process. You stir stir stir and wait wait wait. This is what you end up with:


But here’s the part that angers me. Nigella then says: “Wait for the butter to resolidfy. Do not put in the fridge though! You need the butter soft. It really won’t take that long.”

Oh, Nigella. How long it took. It took so long that I almost put the butter in the freezer, but I settled upon the fridge. Even that took a while. So I’m not sure what was happening (I’m sure my foodie friends can chime in) but if I were you, if you ever make this recipe, just stick it in the fridge and check every few minutes. That’s what I’d do.

Once that happens, it’s so straight forward you could die from overexposure to straightforwardness. You just blitz that brown butter with brown sugar and flour and other things in the food processor. Add milk. Pour into muffin tins. You’re done.

But wait. Then there’s the frosting. For the frosting you have to do the SAME BROWN BUTTER PROCESS. So it takes that same crazy amount of time. But this time I used the fridge method and I was happy. The frosting is wonderful. Here’s the resulting cupcake:


I actually love this cupcake because the ingredients are so simple and yet it tastes so exotic. When people talk about browned butter they often use the word “nuttiness” to describe the taste (at least Nigella does). I think that’s true but it’s a comforting nuttiness–there’s a warmth to it that’s hard to describe.

Was it a hit in class?

Well Dan, sitting next to me, bit into it while someone was reading a poem and said: “OH MY GOD! Adam, this is AMAZING.”

On the other hand, a certain classmate who shall remain nameless took one bite and pushed it away. She didn’t know I noticed this but I DID. Burnt Butter Brown Sugar Cupcakes aren’t for anyone. Are they for you? Only one way to find out. All you need is butter, fire and time.

Bundty and the Bundtlettes: Mini Spice Bundt Cakes

So one of my big surprise happy happy birthday gifts this year was a mini-bundt pan featuring six “bundtlettes” given to me by Lisa and Annette with much love and affection. Saturday night, Lisa came over and we got bundty with it. This is our story.

But should we start with the final image? Sometimes that draws attention. Look how pretty these turned out:


Pretty as a picture, right? Well it is a picture, but you see the point. Bundlettes produce very pretty mini-bundt cakes, for sure.

We used this recipe from Williams Sonoma, linked earlier by one of my site readers. Identify yourself, whoever you are! I’m too lazy to find you! This recipe was a great recipe to start out with, so thanks for recommending it!

The biggest step in the whole mini-bundt process was greasing and flouring the bundt pan. I just rubbed a lot of butter in all the crevises and then floured it. This worked fine. Just use lots of butter. Get bundty with it. (Sorry, this will be a recurring joke. I apologize if you don’t find it funny. May I suggest that you resist it because you don’t know how to get bundty?)

Otherwise, the rest is easy. Just follow the instructions in that link. You make the batter. You pour it in.

Oh wait, that part isn’t easy. Here’s where Lisa and I have a big fight. I will recreate it for you now:


Lisa: I am distributing the batter evenly in the 6 pans like the instructions say.

Me: Yes, but I think it’s better to fill each of them up entirely than to spread them out evenly and only fill them 2/3rds of the way up.

Lisa: But I read a recipe for this earlier today that said to only fill them up 2/3rds of the way!

Me: But this isn’t that recipe!

Lisa: I don’t care! I’ll do what I like! Deal with it!

So Lisa won that little fight and we put them in the oven looking like this:


For a long while it looked like I would be the victor in the big fight because they weren’t rising. But suddenly, about 2/3rds of the way in (how ironic, right?) they did rise. And they looked perfect. We let them cool when they came out and eventually (and rather nervously) tapped them out on the rack. Lisa felt like a hero:


After that, it was just a matter of making the glaze (we used apple cider instead of apple juice) which we painted on and the let seep in. Eventually we achieved this final image which you’ve already seen:


Again, they look really pretty, right?

As for how did they taste? Well one confession. Lisa and I forgot—ok, I’ll take the blame–I forgot to add the vanilla. So this is lacking one tsp of vanilla. I’m not sure how that impacted the final taste. But ultimately, they tasted like baked donuts with an apple glaze. That sounds nice, right? Ya, it was nice. I didn’t love them. If they didn’t look so pretty and tasted this way I’d be like: “Yo, what’s the deal? This just tastes eh, y’all.” However, because they did look pretty I forgave the just ok taste. See, that’s what happens when you get bundty with it.


Hessa Meets Contessa: Meyer Lemon Curd Bars Cockaigne

First the money shot:


Oh, and this:


I put those pictures at the top to attract your eye when you load up the page. You can click them and they will be larger. My name is The Amateur Gourmet and I am a food pornographer.

But wait. How did we get here? What was our journey like from flour, sugar, lemon and sweat to the glory you see above you? Let me tell you: not a pretty one.

It started prettily enough yesterday, when I was out shopping and I spotted these Meyer lemons at Whole Foods:


Meyer Lemons are one (or two) of those gourmet buzzwords that you hear often but never really respond to. By that I mean: I’ve never purchased nor eaten a Meyer lemon. I know Meyer Lemons are all the rage, and so I flipped to the back of my easily portable Mr. Latte book and found Amanda’s recipe for Lemon Curd Bars Cockaigne. I purchased 5 lemons.

Tonight, then, is when the ugliness began. Well not ugliness. Confusion.

You see, Amanda has very easy instructions for the crust. You sift together 1.5 cups of flour and .5 cup of Confectioner’s sugar. Add 12 Tbs of chopped cold butter and pinch with your fingers until it looks like peas. This I did. Then pour into a 13 X 9 inch pan and press to fill the bottom and up the sides. This I attempted. It did not work out:


There was honestly not enough dough to cover the bottom. I know it looks like if I’d spread it around more, but no. Or if it was possible, it didn’t seem possible at the time. I grew furious. I threw things. I broke a cutting board over my head.

But when life throws you Meyer Lemons, call the Barefoot Contessa. That’s what I did. I whipped out her recipe for Lemon Bars and made the crust that she calls for. This one’s easier. It involves your electric mixer. It’s butter and sugar (check) and then flour and salt. Check. Then pour into a 13 X 9 X 2 inch pan. Here’s where I made another mistake:


See the pan in the distance? That’s what I thought was a 13 X 9 X 2 inch pan. But it wasn’t. So it didn’t spread out either.

I finally realized that the pan you see on top of the sink (the one I originally attempted for Amanda) was the one the Contessa called for. So I plopped the dough in there, spread it out, baked at 350 for 25 minutes and removed it from the oven. All was finally well in doughland.

Then the rest was easy. I went back to the Hesser recipe and juiced the Meyer Lemons after zesting them. They have a lovely armoa that’s 3/4ths lemon and 1/4th orange. Whisked that with 6 eggs, sugar and flour and poured it over the crust. Baked for 30 minutes (but then longer because the top hadn’t set) and after it had cooled I had what you see at the top of this post. And if pictures truly speak louder than words, you should know they were delicious. Are delicious. I’m bringing them to school tomorrow. They are the product of a Valentine’s Day union between Hessa and Contessa–two recipes fused into one glorious lemon bar cockaigne. [Please: no cockaigne jokes.]

Soulmate Cookies

Do you believe in soulmates? I mean really.

I believe there are many people out there for us—there isn’t just one that we’re meant to find. (How else could we justify our threesomes?) I feel the same way about cookies. There isn’t just ONE cookie that will be your favorite cookie. You’ll encounter many amazing cookies in your lifetime. That’s what life’s all about, y’all.

But now I’ve changed my mind. There IS only one soulmate, because there is only one cookie. This is the cookie. It comes from A Spoonful of Sugar which I will visit now on a regular basis. (It is frustrating, however, because I had to convert everything from grams to cups. Stupid metric system!) Sorry, I love the metric system. I have nothing against it.

Laura Floyd pointed me to this recipe when I admired the cookies at Jacques Torres’s place. She was dead on—these cookies are JUST like those. Only I messed this batch up a bunch. But regardless of that, they were still terrific. Watch.

Ok, so first I had MAJOR brown sugar issues. The recipe require what I determined was 1 cup of brown sugar. My brown sugar was SOLID…SOLID AS A ROCK. (Name that 80s group!) So I used the recovery method printed on the side of the box. It said: put the brown sugar in a bowl, which I did. Then cover with 2 wet paper towels and plastic wrap.


Put in microwave on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Careful, the sugar will be hot.

Well I did and took the bowl out and uncovered it and the sugar was cold and still SOLID…SOLID AS A ROCK. (Seriously, name that 80s group). What I didn’t realize was that when I set the power to “high” I tried to set it to 10 and really only set it to 1. So I put it back in the microwave for another 1 minute and 30 seconds the right way but thinking that it wouldn’t get hot again because I’d just done it the right way, didn’t I?

No. You didn’t. Because this time the bowl was freaking hot and I peeled back the cover and saw this:


Yikes, I made caramel. Should I stop here? Should I not make cookies?

A lesser person would have said: YES. STOP HERE. But I am not a lesser person. I picked the caramel out and proceeded. There were crunchy caramel bits in the batter but I didn’t taste them in the cookies.

The recipe is easy once you make the conversions. I like the fact that you MELT the butter. I’ve never done that with cookies. It was awesome. Here’s the doughy mush in the bowl:


Put it in 1/4 cup scoops on to your Silpat:


Then bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Smells great. Take them out. Then this instruction was kind of nutty: after one minute, put them on a cooling rack. Well after one minute, they’re still a goppy mess. And this is what resulted on my cooling rack:


Ok, you can’t really see, but the cookies got folded over and mushed up and destroyed. So I left the others on the baking sheet and came back 20 minutes later and ate one.

Heaven! Honestly, this is the cookie. This is my soulmate. Crunchy on the outside (but not crunchy in the Chips Ahoy sense; crunchy in that there’s a snap to it when you bite in) and soft and delectable on the inside. To quote the spoonful of sugar lady: like a truffle. Yes, like a chocolate chip cookie truffle on the inside. Trust this recipe. Love this recipe. It is your soulmate.