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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