Amanda Hesser’s Chocolate Dump-It Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting

So it’s 10 o’clock and you missed the 9:45 “Hide and Seek” at the Chelsea Clearview Cinema (which you wanted to see not because it looked good, but because it looked fun (Lisa saw it today and said it wasn’t bad and then I made her tell me the ending which I don’t normally do but for this one I just wanted to know)) and then the group of 5 people you’re with decides to come back to YOUR apartment (after you invite them, of course) to watch Paris Hilton host SNL. Only Paris Hilton didn’t host SNL last night, that’s next week—last night’s host was a rerun of Colin Farrell which I was really happy about not because I love Colin, but because the musical guests were the Scissor Sisters who I love and have never seen perform before. So that was fun.

But anyway. People are over. They’re drinking beer. What can you cook them?

A lightbulb goes off. “Amanda Hesser’s Dump It Cake.” You just dump everything in a pot and you have cake. It’s really easy. If I had sourcream I could have made the normal cake and made her chocolate sour cream frosting. But instead, I use her recipe for buttercream frosting and make cupcakes.

So the cupcakes are crazy easy. I’m not giving away the recipe because I’ve given away enough Hesser recipes, but you can easily copy it out of the book in the book store. But at this point, even if you don’t like her, just buy her book because the recipes are great. Every one so far has been a success.

I recruited Lisa to help me in the kitchen. We began by melting butter and unsweetened chocolate and sugar and water together:


You let it cool and then you whisk in milk and cider vinegar (anyone have any idea why cider vinegar is good for this cake?) and the flour baking soda baking powder salt mixture:


Pour into lined cupcake tin (I halved the recipe so it only made 12). Oh, and Lisa should get the credit for pouring the batter into the cups–she did it very well. She even cleaned it up for this photo:


It bakes for 20 minutes and they all puff up nicely and we inserted a spaghetti strand straight in (this is a good alternative to a cake tester) and it came out clean. Done!


We let these cool on the cooling rack and we made the icing. The icing’s crazy easy. It’s just powdered sugar, butter, vanilla and some milk. (I’m not telling you proportions! Haha! You so don’t know the proportions.)


Lisa insisted on frosting them. “I’m the Queen Froster!” she said. I let her do her thang.


Our guests nibbled them greedily.

“These are really good,” they said.

Seriously, they got As across the board. And they’re really easy. People even talked abou them today.

“We talked about the cupcakes again today,” Lisa said after telling me about the movie. “They were really good. We should make them again.”

And there you have it. Dump-It cupcakes. The perfect solution to a Saturday night with friends and without Paris Hilton.

Kuchie Kuchie Kuchen: Blueberry Apple Kuchen from French Laundry

Simple is often used pejoratively. “He’s so simple,” for example. Or: “You have a simple on your face.” Simple makes for bad feelings.

But, frequently when it comes to cooking, simple is best. A few fresh ingredients assembled wisely can yield great success. Such is the case with Thomas Keller’s kuchen. (“Whachyu talkin’ about my kuchen?” Thomas yells angrily.)

Now normally I am incredibly generous and I share recipes with you. As it happens, I’ve done some research on the matter. Recipes are uncopyrightable—only the language used to describe the recipe is copyrightable. Therefore, I am pretty safe when I share recipes with you as long as I don’t do it too much from one single cookbook and I change the words around. But, alas, it’s late tonight and I have much more posting to do. So if 5 of you request the recipe for this I will share it. Otherwise, buy the French Laundry cookbook!

Honestly, it’s crazy easy. You just make this batter with sugar, butter, flour, nutmeg, and milk and pour it into a cakepan. Then you peel two or three apples:


And put them around the border like spokes in a wheel, and fill the center with blueberries:


Bake at 350 for 40 – 50 minutes and look at this prettiness:


I mean honestly, people.

As for taste?


Fantastic. Not too sweet, not too not sweet. Just simple and perfect. [Although, it’s much better hot out of the oven than the next day in the fridge. And may taste even better with Tommy’s recommended cream sauce. Lisa whined that she wanted cream sauce. But she also arranged the apples and blueberries, so we’ll keep her as a friend). And that’s what we call kuchen.

Say it with Sabayon: Awe-Inspiring Lemon Sabayon-Pine Nut Tart from The French Laundry Cookbook


Now here is a recipe worth knowing. Like the Zuni Cafe cookbook, my French Laundry cookbook has sat mostly ignored in the brief time I’ve owned it. The thing is, it’s so humongous and so intimidating that it’s like bringing “Ulysses” to the beach. It just isn’t done. But last night it was done and damn was it cold on the beach! Just kidding. I didn’t go to the beach. But I did make a lemon sabayon-pine nut tart from The French Laundry cookbook and DAMN girl did it knock our socks off.

Lisa was a huge help in this endeavor. In fact, I may go so far as to say that this tart would never have come out as good as it did were it not for Lisa. She played two key roles: (1) she was a good crust distributor, pushing the pine nut crust mixture evenly around the tart pan; (2) she was an Olympic athlete when it came to whisking the sabayon as it cooked over the double boiler. My arm and wrist and elbow got crazy tired after just one minute, so she took over and just whisked and whisked and whisked until there was no tomorrow. You’ll see pictures in a moment.

Because this recipe was so dazzling, I’m going to reprint it here. The official recipe also includes Honeyed Mascarpone Cream, but we didn’t think that was necessary. And our tart-tasters were so laudatory (several said this was the best lemon tart they’d ever had) that you’ll be fine without it. Let’s begin, shall we?


Butter and flour for the tart pan

1/3 recipe Pine Nut Crust (recipe follows)

[Ok, so you have to make the pine nut crust first and then divide it in three and only use a third. To quote Keller: “Since the recipe uses only one egg, it would be difficult to cut down, but the extra dough can be frozen for future use.” This is exactly what we did, so you should do it too.]

Pine Nut Crust Ingredients

2 cups (10 oz.) pine nuts

1/3 cup sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

16 Tbs (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the pine nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times.


Add the sugar and flour and continue to pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Place the mixture in a mixing bowl (the dough can be mixed by hand or in a mixer fitted with the paddle).

Add the softened butter, the egg, and vanilla extract and mix to incorporate all the ingredients. Divide the dough into three parts. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes before using. The dough can be frozen for future use.

Lemon Sabayon Ingredients

2 large eggs, cold

2 large egg yolks, cold

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

6 Tbs (3 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

And now for the tart…


Preheat the oven to 350F. Generously butter and flour a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and refrigerate it while the oven preheats.

Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator. Use your fingertips to press the chilled dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim off any excess dough.


Bake the crust for 10 to 15 minutes, then rotate the shell and continue baking for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the shell is a golden brown. Remove the shell from the oven and let it cool while you make the filling. There may be some cracks in the shell; they will not affect the tart.

[NOTE: Look how ours came out. Do you see any cracks? No. Perfection. We rock!]


For the Lemon Sabayon:

Bring about 1 1/2 inches of water to a boil in a pot that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the mixing bowl you will be using for the sabayon. Meanwhile, in a large metal bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar for about 1 minute or until the mixture is smooth.

Set the bowl over the pot and using a large whisk, whip the mixture while you turn the bowl, for even heating.

[Lisa whisked, I turned the bowl.]


After about 2 minutes, when the eggs are foamy and have thickened, add one third of the lemon juice. Continue to whisk vigorously and when the mixture thickens again, add another one third of the lemon juice. Whisk until the mixture thickens again, then add the remaining lemon juice. Continue whisking vigorously, still turning the bowl, until the mixture is thickened, light in color, and the whisk leaves a trail in the bottom of the bowl. The total cooking time should be approximately 8 to 10 minutes.


Turn off the heat but leave the bowl over the water as you add the butter: Whisk in the butter a piece at a time. The sabayon may loosen slightly, but it will thicken and set as it cools. Pour the warm sabayon into the tart shell and place the pan on a baking sheet.

[Isn’t this picture cool? Our friend Annette took it. Good job Annette!]


And now for the most exciting cooking moment in the history of cooking ever. I am writing this in bold to emphasize how exciting it was. At this point, I had 4 guests over and all of us (minus one guest busy watching “Desperate Housewives”) stood in the kitchen watching as this moment happened. It involved a broiler. Let’s let Keller tell you what to do first.

Preheat the broiler. While the sabayon is still warm, place the tart under the broiler. Leaving the door open, brown the top of the sabayon, rotating the tart if necessary for even color; do not leave the oven—this will happen in a few seconds.

Do you see how exciting this was? So we put it under the broiler:


And we all crouched watching eagerly. Nothing seemed to be happening.


Then, suddenly, magic. The top began to get white and grainy. The sugar coming to the surface? Yes, I think it was that. For soon it was turning brown! We all ooohed and ahhhed. “Turn it!” shouted someone. I did. “Turn it again!” I tried. But it was browned enough—we removed it from the oven and beheld the following (which you’ve already seen but now you can see in context):


Actually, we didn’t behold that until we followed this instruction:

Remove the tart from the broiler and let it sit at least 1 hour before serving. Serve at room temperature or cold.

So you see we waited until it cooled until we pushed the bottom through and revealed the tart in all its glory. Want to see it again?


Then we cut slices. Look at this glorious slice:


Look at Annette looking at her glorious slice:


And here are the tart-eaters tart-eating under the new painting I bought two days ago at a flea market for $60:


We honestly all loved this tart. Some (like Lisa) loved it for the crust. (“I don’t usually like crust,” explained Lisa, “but I like THIS crust.”) Liz and Annette both said this was the best lemon tart they’d ever had. (And Liz doesn’t even like lemons). And Joe said: “Mmmm, that was good.”

Inspired? As well you should be. And just in case, maybe this picture will inspire you? It’s really the sexiest tart ever. Go make it!


Paste and Sand: The Peanut Butter Cookie Disaster

Let’s start with the ending. The ending looks like this:


This is Nancy Silverton’s “Not Nutter Butter.” It is supposed to resemble a Nutter Butter but taste better. As you can see, it looks nothing like a Nutter Butter. And as for taste, I think Liz said it best when she said: “I think I’m going to throw up.” Lisa refused to eat one. And Kevan, who came over to try a cookie, took a bite and put it down and politely asked for water.

I contend that eating this cookie without a glass of water nearby would kill you. The title of this post is “paste and sand” and that’s being nice. Just looking at these cookies on my counter makes me choke. How did something that looked so delicious on the page come out so terrible?

I mean look—it begins with the toasting of rolled oats with a stick of butter and a vanilla bean:


How does a recipe that starts with such promise turn out so bad?

The answer may lie in the remaining ingredients, or lack thereof. It’s more butter, peanut butter, sugar, brown sugar and flour. Notice anything missing? Anything like eggs or melted butter or any form of liquid? That’s because there is none. And then you add the toasted oats. And the mixture is a huge mass of crumbles. Nancy says it’s supposed to work itself into a ball, but it never did. We made little crumbly balls and put them on the cookie sheet and baked them and they came out like this:


And they were so dry, but the dryness was tasty, but still very dry.

Then Lisa and Liz made the peanut butter filling. It consisted of peanut butter, powdered sugar and salt. They spread them on the cookies and made little Not Nutter Butter sandwiches:


They look happy and excited but those expressions mask their inner Aristotelian feelings of pity and fear. Putting peanut butter icing on a dry cookie is like picking a scab or, to quote Billy Crystal in the Princess Bride: “Giving yourself a paper cut and pouring lemon juice on it.”

These cookies were awful. Don’t make them.

[PS: Why do I keep making Nancy Silverton recipes if they keep coming out so badly? I must stop. Those books must be retired. She’s dead to me now… do you hear me? Dead!]

These Cookies Rock (Killer Gingersnaps)

Do yourself a favor and follow this link to Feeding Dexygus Seconds’s recipe post featuring Chez Panisse Gingersnaps (featured a few days ago on I made them for school yesterday and EVERYONE loved them. Two camps developed, however. One batch came out chewier than the other batch. According to the link, the cookies should come out crisp and brown around the edges. Hence the chewy batch was the failure batch, but not according to some. “The chewier batch is superior,” said these some. I disagreed. “The crispy batch is the superior cookie!” But the chewys did the crispys all a favor by getting rid of the bad stuff. The good stuff that remained was da bomb.


[Note: the superior batch was made, as pictured above, on the Silpat sheet. The inferior batch was made on parchment. And make sure to follow the direction to cook until brown around the edges–that really pays off. And don’t skimp on the pepper–it gives the cookies a freaky edge that everyone loves.]

The Almond Cake That Will Save Your Soul


The ingredients are simple: butter, sour cream, baking soda, flour, sea salt, sugar, almond paste, 4 egg yolks, almond extract and confectioner’s sugar for dusting. But assembled as they are and baked as they were, this cake is sheer perfection. On pg. 70 of Hesser’s book (referenced also in the previous post), this cake was first prepared by Amanda’s now mother-in-law. I’d like to break into that family somehow just so I’d have an excuse to genuflect at mom-in-law’s feet on a regular basis to thank her for this brilliant creation. “Thank you thank you thank you,” I’d say.

Am I overdoing it? Maybe. Just maybe. But look at this cake again and call me a liar:


Look at this slice:


Do you have any idea how good this tastes? Do you? DO YOU PUNK?

Ok, I’ll break my own rule established in the post below and share the recipe. I think recipes are in the public domain, anyway–it’s somewhere in the Federal Code 3.825 regarding Delicious Almond Cake Recipes and the Rule Against Perpetuities. I do have a law degree, you know.

The ingredients are mentioned above but not the amounts. So here we go again:

2 sticks butter, softened, more for buttering pan

1 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1 tsp baking soda

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (measured after sifting)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

7-oz tube almond paste, cut into small pieces

(Lisa cut the almond paste using a juvenile method that I found offensive:


“Those aren’t small pieces,” I pleaded.

“Shut up, crackwhore,” she retorted.)

4 egg yolks, at room temperature

(Ok, can I just mention that I’m usually great at separating egg yolks, and how these eggs I bought were deformed? I’d pour the egg into my hand, as I usuall do, spreading my fingers for the white to fall through–except the yellow bled into the white and I had to dump it all. Then I did the shell method–break the shell in half and pour back and forth until it’s all separated; but again the yolk bled. It took a big mess to finally get the four I needed. Don’t ask why I was using coffee mugs:


Ok, I used the coffee mugs because you’re supposed to add the yolks one at a time so I put two yolks per mug then poured half the mug for each addition. Genius? I dare say it is!)

1 tsp almond extract

Confectioners’ sugar, for sifting over cake

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter sides and bottoms of one 9-inch springform pan; line sides and bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the paper. (You may forego the parchment paper as long as you are generous with the butter on the pan itself.) Mix together the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl. Sift the flour and salt into another bowl.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the almond paste, a little at a time, at medium speed, and beat for 8 minutes.


Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, and mix until incorporated. It will look curdled; don’t worry. Blend in the almond extract and sour cream mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, just until blended.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.


Bake about 1 hour. It is done when you press the top and it returns to its shape, and also shrinks from the sides of the pan. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool in the pan. When ready to serve, sift confectioners’ sugar on top and slice like a pie.

Behold the celestial magesty of this cake:







Make it today and thank yourself tomorrow.

Flour + Sugar + Butter = Shortbread

One of my classmates was here a few weeks ago and he looked into my empty fridge and said, “If you’re such a gourmet, why isn’t there any food in your refrigerator?”

His point is well taken. Now that I live alone, it’s like I have no idea what goes into a fridge. When I moved in with Lauren two years ago, her fridge already had all the usual fridge stuff—the pickles, the ketchup, the cheese, the fungus growing in the back. I have that too, but the fridge still seems barren.

Maybe the problem is accessibility—I don’t live incredibly close to a grocery store except for Whole Foods which is mighty expensive. So I tend to wait until I have a recipe and then shop for that recipe. When I do go to the generic grocery story–Gristede’s–I buy the basics: flour, sugar, butter.

And that’s what I had to work with tonight when I had a craving for something sweet. Naturally, flipped open my Barefoot Contessa book and found her recipe for shortbread cookies. Very easy indeed.

Put butter in mixer (3/4 lbs). Add 1 cup sugar. Mix until blended. Add 1 tsp vanilla. Beat. Then sift 3.5 cups flour and 1/4 tsp salt into the butter/sugar and mix until dough comes together. Flatten into a disc, cover in plastic and refrigerate.*

*NOTE: I divided the dough in half, wrapping each in plastic, and put one in the freezer for future use. Thus the yield here is less than if you used the whole dough.

30 minutes later roll it out to 1/2 inch thickness and cut out heart-shaped cookies with a cookie cutter. I improvised with my poor-man’s cookie cutter:


Got six out of the first roll:


Two out of the remainder. (For those slow on math, that makes eight.)

Put them on my Silpat and sprinkled with sugar. Put them in preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until edges were brown:


How easy! How fun! Tasted like sweet sugary biscuits. Just what the doctor ordered and only three ingredients. (Four if you count salt.) Now that’s what I call living…