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April 12, 2020
Do you like to bake? I love to! And in the back of my mind, I often ponder about what it would be like to have a sunlight-kissed, cozy and happy little bakery filled with really yummy, made-with-much love-and joy, any-time-of-the-day sweet and savory treats and memory-making aromas.
Until that day, our kitchen will have to do. I seek inspiration from visiting bakeries, patisseries, and especially chocolatiers locally and when we travel — either before or after we visit farmers markets.
I also love to curl up with and learn from my collection of old and new cookbooks — my husband keeps telling me we have no more room for cookbooks, but I know better! — and then pick what I would like to make next — or again, with perhaps my own twist.
I have several favorites, and you can find some of them in the shop, along with a curated collection of baking and kitchen tools that we will be growing. One of my favorite go-to baking cookbooks is by Chez Panisse alumna Claire Ptak, who owns the lovely Violet Bakery in London.
Her name sounds familiar, yes? It should, as she was the baker chosen by Meghan Markle to make that beautiful and mouth-watering Amalfi lemon and elderflower sponge cake for Meghan's wedding to Prince Harry.
I'll let Alice Waters — legendary chef, founder/owner of Chez Panisse and Café, author and activist for healthy food and the environment and a heroine of mine — share her thoughts about Claire Ptak and The Violet Bakery and her wonderful cookbook of the same name:
"One of the things I love most about Claire's palate is her unerring sense of balance. When it comes to sugar in her desserts, the sweetness never overwhelms or cloys. She keeps the flavors up there on this incredible tightrope. And she's able to do that because she is always asking herself the questions that matter: What does the new apple harvest taste like? How does spelt flour compare to buckwheat? Is this batch better than the last one I made? She is always searching for how to do it better the next time, never relying on the crutch of the familiar and the predictable. That kind of self-inquiry separates a good cook from a great one...
...This is a lovely book to fall in to...As you thumb through these wonderful images and recipes, you feel welcomed into Claire's kitchen in the most natural of ways. Her nuanced approach to season and place, sweet and savory, flavor and health, is what makes this book so special: it is about food that is lovingly crafted, always mindful of what is delicious, pure, and satisfying in the truest sense."
Exactly! So, to celebrate Easter, Spring, life, anything, because there is always something worth having gratitude for and celebrating, especially with chocolate — here is the delish recipe for Sunken Chocolate Soufflé Cake from The Violet Bakery cookbook. And yes, you can get your own copy of the entire book and its timeless treasure trove of recipes to bake that are perfect any time, from morning to night, right here!
Here is Claire Ptak's own description of her chocolate lovers' dream creation:
"I used to call this a flourless chocolate cake in the early days of my cake stall, and it was so funny to hear people ask for the "flavorless" chocolate cake; however, Sunken Soufflé Cake describes it better. It's a soufflé, made rich with dark chocolate, and when baked just right is super-rich and gooey but then just melts in your mouth and actually feels quite light. These types of flourless cakes were really popular in restaurants in the 1980s and 1990s, but today people tend to add lots of nuts to their chocolate cakes. I love a nutty chocolate cake, but a pure chocolate cake is so lovely."
And, here's the recipe:
NOTE. You need to use an electric mixer to get the right volume with this cake.
Makes one 9-inch cake, which serves 8 to 10
2/3 cup unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
6 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
Cocoa powder, for dusting on top
• Preheat the oven to 340°F (300°F convection). Butter a 9-inch springform cake pan and line with parchment paper.
Melt the butter and chocolate with the salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally but not vigorously. Once the butter and chocolate have melted, remove the pan from the heat but keep the mixture warm and resting over the pan of water until ready to use.
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks into the bowl of your stand mixer first. Add half of the sugar and whisk until the mixture forms pale and fluffy ribbons and has doubled in volume.
Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the pan of hot water and set it on your work surface. Fold the whisked yolks into the melted chocolate. They should be marbly and not fully incorporated.
Wash out the mixer bowl and dry it thoroughly, and now add the egg whites to it along with the remaining sugar. Whisk on a high speed until medium-soft peaks form. Do not overwhip. The consistency of the egg whites should resemble that of the yolk and chocolate mixture. Fold the whites into the chocolate until just mixed, then pour into your prepared pan.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top of the cake is puffed and just starting to crack. The cake will still have a bit of a wobble and will be puffing out over the top of the pan. Place the pan on a wire cooling rack and coax any extra overflowing cake back into the pan.
Allow to cool for a good 20 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan, peel off the paper, and slide the cake onto a nice serving plate. Dust with cocoa powder before serving.
Reprinted with permission from The Violet Bakery, by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press)
Cake Photography copyright by Kristin Perers
Main photo of bee in our garden - Copyright 2020 Kim Young
March 15, 2017
Happy Valentine's Day! We hope this finds you and yours well and enjoying a love-filled day.
It is no secret that we here at Pretty Things & Cool Stuff are HUGE fans of good chocolate. So, we always are looking for ways to enjoy and share it.
One of our favorite chefs/food writers is David Lebovitz ( we feature a few of his books in the shop - Drinking French, The Perfect Scoop, My Paris Kitchen), and he has an amazing recipe for a chocolate cake that he describes as "extremely rich, and tastes like the most delicious, silkiest, most supremely-chocolate ganache you've ever had." We totally agree!
What makes this recipe really amazing is the fact that it is next to impossible to mess it up. In fact, David even once called it the Chocolate Idiot Cake! It takes just four ingredients, no special techniques, just some whisking, and once it has cooled, it can be refrigerated for several days before serving.
A couple of important notes:
10 ounces (290 grams) bittersweet or semisweet good-quality chocolate, coarsely chopped
7 ounces (200 grams) butter — salted or unsalted — cut into pieces
5 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for preparing the cake pan
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC).
2. Butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan and dust it with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. Wrap the outside with aluminum foil, in several layers if necessary (see headnote), making sure it goes all the way up to the outer rim.
3. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler (or microwave), stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and cover the top of the cake pan snugly with a sheet of foil. Put the springform pan into a larger pan that can be put in the oven, like a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the roasting-turned-baking pan so that it reaches halfway up to the outside of the cake pan.
7. Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. It should feel just set in the center, like quivering chocolate pudding. If you gently touch the center, your finger should come away almost clean.
8. Lift the cake pan from the water bath and remove the foil. Let cake cool completely on a cooling rack.
9. When it is cool, serve thin wedges of this very rich cake at room temperature, with crème anglaise, ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, Amarena cherries and their syrup, etc.
Storage: This cake can be wrapped and chilled in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
Talk about having your cake and eating it, too!
What can be more Irish than Guiness beer and Bailey's Irish Cream? And just imagine combining them with chocolate in a deliciously dark cake for a double shot of Irish! The cake recipe comes from Clodaugh's Irish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Traditional Flavors by popular Irish chef Clodaugh McKenna.
2 1/4 sticks plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup Guinness
1 cup unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large eggs
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking power
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted Irish butter
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups cream cheese (not low fat)
4 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 12-inch, round springform pan with parchment paper.
Heat the butter in a a large saucepan over medium heat until melted. Stir in Guinness, then remove from the heat and the stir in cocoa powder.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and buttermilk and then slowly mix in the Guinness mixture.
Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder into a separate large bowl. Using a handheld electric mixer, slowly mix the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and keep beating until all is well combined.
Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Test to make sure the cake is ready by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake — if it comes out clean, the cake is finished baking. Let the cake cool in the pan, then transfer from the pan onto a wire rack.
While the cake is cooling, make the frosting: Using a handheld electric mixer, blend all of the ingredients together until light and fluffy.
Place the cooled cake on a plate and generously spread the frosting on top.
The cake will keep up to a week in an airtight container.
A rose is a rose is a rose. And what a wonderful cocktail it makes! Especially when combined with the French wine-based aperitif, Lillet Rosé, which is made from Grand Cru Bordeaux grapes and combined with fruit liquers.
This recipe is from the very talented mixology pioneers at New York's highly rated cocktail sanctuary, Death & Co., and it comes from their classic, beautiful, recipe-laden, encyclopedic, must-have book on Everything Cocktails.
4 heaping teaspoons of dried rosebuds (Mountain Rose Herbs is a great source for organic ones!)
1 750-ml bottle of Lillet Rose
In a container, combine the dried rosebuds and the bottle of Lillet Rosé. Stir well. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass of choice.
Photo: Kristin Peters
One (10 by 4-inch) loaf cake, which cuts into 8 slices
All our lemons at Violet come from the Amalfi coast of Italy. They are large and sweet and have a very thick and pithy peel.
(OUR NOTE: If you don't happen to live near the Amalfi coast or your local market does not have lemons from there, remember to choose a lemon that's heavy for its size and has a pleasant fragrance. The skin should be bright yellow with no wrinkling. A thinner-skinned lemon will yield more juice, while a thicker-skinned one may be better for zest.)
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/3 cups sugar
Zest of 3 or 4 lemons (save the juice for the lemon drizzle and icing)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat your oven to 355°F . Butter a 10 by 4-inch loaf pan and line the base and sides with parchment paper, extending the paper about 2 inches above the top of the pan.
First make the sponge (cake). In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar well, though you don’t want as fluffy a mixture as you would for a layer cake. Zest the lemons into the butter mixture and mix thoroughly. Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is thoroughly mixed in before adding the next.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix half of this into the creamed butter mixture, scraping down the sides, until barely combined.
While the mixer is still going, beat in all the milk. Then add the remaining flour and mix until just combined. Scrape the bowl and give it one last mix.
Scoop the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an icing spatula or rubber spatula.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top of the cake is springy and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
To make the lemon drizzle, combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a small pan and heat just until the sugar is melted. Do not let this boil, or the fresh flavor will be lost.
Use a skewer to poke holes evenly throughout the baked loaf. Pour the lemon drizzle over the loaf and let it soak in while you make the icing.
In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth.
To remove the loaf cake from the pan, run a small paring knife along the inside of the pan, then tilt the pan on its side and coax the loaf out, using the parchment paper as a handle. Peel off the paper and turn the loaf upright on your cooling rack or worktop. Drizzle the icing over the loaf and let it drip down the sides. Use a spatula to lift the loaf onto a serving dish. This keeps well for up to 3 days in an airtight container.
Reprinted with permission from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak, copyright © 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photograph copyright © 2015 by Kristin Perers.
(Think Earl Grey tea, but with a superior flavor. Yields 100 truffles)
24 ounces bittersweet chocolate — preferably Valrhona Manjari 64% (not too bitter and not too sweet, perfect!) — finely chopped
8 ounces milk chocolate — preferably Valrhona 42% — finely chopped
2 2/3 cups heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
6 ounces of Smith Tea Lord Bergamot Blend 55 Loose Leaf Tea , plus a little extra to decorate truffles. (You can substitute an Earl Grey tea, but the flavor will not match that of the Lord Bergamot!)
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups cocoa powder (not Dutch processed), preferable Valrhona, for rolling truffles in
1. Line a 13-by-9 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap; set aside
2. In a heatproof bowl, set over simmering water (don't let bowl touch water), melt 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate and milk chocolate together until it reaches 120 degrees.
3. Place cream in a small saucepan over medium heat; heat until cream just comes to a boil. Place loose tea in a medium, stainless steel bowl. Pour cream over tea and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain the cream mixture through 4 layers of cheesecloth.
4. Remove chocolate mixture from heat and add 1 1/3 cups cream mixture, reserving remaining cream for another use. Using a heatproof spatula, mix together, starting from the center of the saucepan and working your way to the outer edges until mixture is emulsified.
Add butter and and mix with an immersion blender until well combined. Pour mixture into prepared baking sheet, evenly spreading mixture with an offset spatula; cover with plastic wrap, pressing down gently on chocolate mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.
5. Line the back of another 13-by-91/2-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Uncover chocolate and invert onto parchment paper; remove second piece of plastic wrap. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, and a ruler as a guide, cut chocolate into 1-inch squares.
6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Roll each square of chocolate between your hands to form a smooth ball. Transfer chocolate balls to baking sheet; refrigerate for 1 hour.
7. Melt remaining 16 ounces of bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl, set over (but not touching) simmering water. Place cocoa powder in a shallow dish. Place some of the melted chocolate in the palm of your hand and roll a chocolate ball in the melted chocolate to coat, then roll in cocoa powder. Sprinkle some of the extra Lord Bergamot loose tea on top of truffle and press in gently.
Repeat process with remaining chocolate balls. Transfer truffles to an airtight container, stacking truffles no more than 2 to 3 inches high, and refrigerate up to 2 weeks. Bring truffles to room temperature just before serving. ENJOY!
Recipe inspiration from Smith Tea and Charles Chocolates