Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Pies, Puddings, and Cakes, Oh My!

Written by Andrea Davila

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In the depths of winter, my taste always veers toward comfort food. Cozying up on the couch with my sweetheart, some yummy home cooking, and a good movie always serve to banish the winter blahs—at least temporarily. And it's even better when that food is dessert, which turns any gathering of friends into a small celebration. Here's a collection of three delicious desserts that are easy and cheap.                                                            
In the depths of winter, my taste always veers toward comfort food. Cozying up on the couch with my sweetheart, some yummy home cooking, and a good movie always serve to banish the winter blahs—at least temporarily. And it's even better when that food is dessert, which turns any gathering of friends into a small celebration. Here's a collection of three delicious desserts that are easy and cheap.

QUINTESSENTIAL CHOCOLATE CAKE  
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The chocolatiest chocolate cake that will come out of your kitchen, with a surprising secret ingredient: coffee. Note for you decaf drinkers: I'm sensitive to caffeine, and there was enough in this cake to give me a buzz, so don't eat before bedtime. A pound of chocolate (yup, you heard me right!) in the frosting ups the ante and the flavor. Make sure to get fair-trade certified chocolate, and coffee too, which guarantees a fair income for the workers and farmers producing the goods.

What you will need:

Cake layers:
3 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 1⁄2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1⁄2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting and filling:
1 pound semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Special equipment:
2 (10 x 2 inch) round cake pans

1. For the cake layers: preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and grease pans. Line the bottoms of the pans with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.
2. Finely chop chocolate, and in a bowl, combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
3. In a large bowl, sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
4. In another large bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld mixer).
5. Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until well mixed. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until it is just well combined.
6. Divide batter between pans and bake in the middle of the oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
7. Cool layers in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and allow layers to finish cooling completely. (I made these 1 day ahead and kept them, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.)
8. For the frosting: finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1⁄2- to 2-quart saucepan, bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.
9. Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until it is spreadable. (Depending on the type of chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency.)
10. Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides.
11. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, for 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.
(adapted from Gourmet Magazine)

HONEY BANANA PUDDING
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To tell you the truth, I'd never had banana pudding before in my life until one fateful day last year at a cupcake shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called Sugar Sweet Sunshine, where I made the surprising decision of banana pudding over my usual cupcake. It was fate, because once I tried this layered dessert of vanilla pudding, whipped cream, Nilla wafers, and sliced bananas, I knew things would never be the same. Re-create this childhood throwback in your own kitchen easily—and make all your friends swoon!

What you will need:

Whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar

Pudding:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups hot milk
3 large egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
whipped cream
1 (12-ounce) box vanilla wafers
5 medium size ripe bananas, peeled and thinly sliced

1. Whip all ingredients for whipped cream to stiff peaks. Set aside until it is time to make the pudding.
2. Mix sugar, flour, and salt in a large, heavy saucepan. Gradually stir in the hot milk with a whisk. Cook the mixture over moderate heat while stirring constantly until it is slightly thickened.
3. Slowly stir in approximately 1/4 cup of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Next, add the yolks to the balance of the hot mixture and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is fully thickened to a custard-like consistency and coats a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
4. Let cool completely, and then fold in 1/2 cup of the whipped cream.
5. Use a large glass bowl and spread a little of the custard on the bottom. Alternately layer banana slices and vanilla wafers, reserving four wafers, with custard in between each. Repeat and end with vanilla wafers on top.
6. Spread remaining whipped cream over the top. Grind the four reserved wafers coarsely and sprinkle on top of the whipped cream. Chill for at least 30 minutes and serve.

DEEP-DISH APPLE PIE
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Lamenting the onset of winter in your diet? After an active day of ice-skating, no one can turn down the scent of freshly baked apple pie wafting from the kitchen. While you won't be able to easily find fresh berries or peaches, winter does give you the opportunity to savor richer, more decadent desserts, like this deep-dish apple pie. Since apples are one of the only fruits still found locally in the winter, use this pie as the centerpiece of a winter celebration. Winter babies: maybe replace your birthday cake this year with this fragrant, luscious treat? Eating slices of this pie with a crush is the perfect setting for romance too! Paired with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, a deep-dish apple pie is the perfect way to welcome winter.

What you will need:

3 tablespoons flour
lemon zest from half a lemon
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
4-5 sour apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 10-12 wedges per apple (I used Granny Smiths.)
4-5 sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 10-12 wedges per apple (I used Fujis.)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 pastry crust (I used a frozen one that I already had.)
1 egg, beaten

1. Put a large baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Whisk together flour, 2/3 cup sugar, zest, and spices, and toss with apples and lemon juice.
3. Pour mixture into rolled out pastry dough on pie plate. Roll out remaining piece of dough and cover pie. Cut around the edges with scissors, then crimp decoratively. You can use the leftover dough to make shapes and designs to add to the top of your pie.
4. Brush entire pie with egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cut 3 steam vents cut on top with a sharp knife.
5. Bake pie in 475 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for another 40 more minutes, or until it looks and smells ready. You may have to use foil around the edges of the pie pan to keep the crust from burning. Let cool, serve, and enjoy!
 
Photos by Grace Glenny 

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