Chocolate, cherry, black pepper bread

As I move on through some of the recipes in the new sugar and spice by Samantha Seneviratne, I continue to find many of her ingredient combinations enticing (and intriguing).  This one contains chopped dark chocolate, dried tart cherries and freshly ground black pepper, an idea that came to her after a glass of dark red wine that left her with those particular nuances of flavor.

 Although the title calls this a bread, Samantha then proceeds to call it a cake in her short intro to the recipe.  Call it what you will, the process is still the same.  Essentially a quick bread, the preparation is straight forward.

When doing the mise en place, pay attention to the room temperature ingredients (butter, eggs, sour cream, whole milk) since the mixing of the batter proceeds more smoothly when these things are indeed at room temp.  So plan accordingly.

Chop the chocolate and dried cherries and grind the black pepper ahead too.  

Always read the recipe through before starting, right folks?!

So get everything ready and mix away.

les ingredients

Heat the oven to 350ºF.  Butter and flour a medium (4 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch) loaf pan.

In a medium bowl whisk together 260 grams (2 cups) all purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream 113 grams (1 stick) room temperature, unsalted butter with 170 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar; beat this for about 3-4 minutes until pale and fluffy.

Add 2 room temperature eggs, one at a time, plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Add half of the flour mixture and combine on low speed, then add 1/2 cup room temperature sour cream and 1/4 cup room temperature whole milk and blend.

Add the remaining half of the flour mixture and blend until just combined.

Fold in 65 grams (about 1/2 cup) chopped dark chocolate (choose what you like in the 50-64% cacao range) and 113 grams (about 3/4 cup) chopped dried tart cherries.

Place the batter in the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle the top with raw sugar.

ready for the oven

love that sparkly crunch!

Bake this until golden brown and a cake tester poked into the center comes out with moist crumbs, about 50-60 minutes.

After a 15 minute cool down in the pan . . . .

turn it out onto a rack to finish cooling.


Of course Steve and I just had to do a taste test while it was still a bit warm, so I sliced into this chocolate and cherry studded beauty.

The crust was crisp and crunchy from the raw sugar, the interior moist with a dense crumb and the flavor divine with a delicious combo of chocolate and cherry.  The black pepper hit me on the finish -  a nice tingle on the tongue.

I must admit I was a bit shy about using the full 1/1/2 teaspoons of pepper in the recipe, but Steve encouraged me to go for it, being the savory chef in our home kitchen (and a prolific pepperer to boot).  He even suggested I add more.  Imagine that!

At any rate, for the first go-around with this recipe I found the peppery-ness to be subtly just right, but next time I won't be so shy.

Good stuff indeed.

Now just imagine it served warm with a scoop of creamy vanilla or chocolate ice cream and some chocolate crumble.  Oh yes.

Now here's an interesting one - roasted banana ice cream

When I first read this recipe in the book the new sugar and spice, I thought - wow!  What a great way to use up ripe bananas.

It sounded intriguing so I went for it.

We had a bunch of bananas sitting around, not getting any younger, so I peeled them, broke them up and froze them in a ziploc bag until I was ready.

The ice cream base is pretty standard, using cream, sugar and egg yolks, although the sugar comes in at the banana roasting stage rather than during the making of the crème anglaise.

Whereas the recipe calls for 3 cups of heavy cream for the dairy, I used whole milk for one of the cups.  I decided to follow the standard formula in a David Lebovitz recipe that I've been using for years and has always turned out well.

The first step is to heat 2 cups of the dairy with 2 scraped vanilla beans (seeds and pods) and let it steep for an hour or so.

Then in an ovenproof skillet, melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, add 100 grams dark brown sugar and 3 tablespoons water. My bananas had been frozen, so during the thaw some juice was created which I used in place of some of the water (Samantha's tip!).

getting ready
Add the bananas and toss them to coat . . . .

then put the skillet in a preheated 450º oven.

Bake the bananas until bubbling and the bananas have broken down.

after the oven
Then purée the roasted bananas (I used a blender) and put them in a medium bowl to cool.  Place a strainer over the banana bowl.

Now this is where I became a tad concerned.  The puréed mixture looked absolutely awful and totally unappealing.

oh my!

But not to be swayed I was determined to see this through.  My hope was that once the purée was mixed into the ice cream base and processed, it would lighten up and not have such a dirty, ugly brown color!

Turning back to the ice cream base, I put 6 large egg yolks in a bowl along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, poured a portion of the warm vanilla bean infused dairy over the yolks, whisking away.  The mixture is then returned to the heat and cooked while stirring until just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  I took it to about 82ºC.

Strain the mixture into the bowl containing the banana puree and whisk in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and the third cup of dairy.

Cool this over on ice bath, whisking periodically.

phew! looks better already
Chill the base in the fridge over night.

When you're ready to process the base, have 142 grams/5 oz bittersweet chocolate chopped and ready to go.

ready to start churning
At the end of processing add in the chopped chocolate to blend.

looking pretty good
Put the ice cream in a container and freeze until firm (I usually do this a day or two ahead of when I plan to serve it).  Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream to prevent crystallization during freezer storage.

The final product looked just fine and tasted good too.  My only complaint was it seemed a bit icy and not as creamy as I would have liked.

Perhaps the fact that I replaced one cup of cream in the recipe with whole milk, in addition to the moisture in the banana puree, was enough to create the icier texture.

Steve had NO problem with it, but then he's a sucker for ice cream in any way, shape or form!

Pistachio and chocolate butter cake from Samantha Seneviratne

A post holiday gift to myself was the book the new sugar and spice - A RECIPE FOR BOLDER BAKING by Samantha Seneviratne.

Many of the recipes have caught my eye.  My first trial from the book, coffee cardamom shortbread, was a definite success.

Next up is the cover recipe for pistachio and chocolate butter cake, highlighting the use of pistachio paste, cardamom and chocolate chunks (and butter, of course).

The butter, eggs and milk should be at room temperature.

Butter a 9" springform pan and heat the oven to 350º.

Do your ingredient mise en place . . . .

les ingredients
and let's go!

Whisk 223 grams flour, 7 grams baking powder, one teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (hard to see, but it's there on the left side in with the flour) and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.

Cream 113 grams/1 stick room temperature, unsalted butter with 75 grams granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add two eggs, one at a time, then blend in 198 grams pistachio paste.

Add the flour mixture alternately with 120 ml milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.

Fold in 85 grams chopped dark chocolate (I used a mixture of 56% and 72%).

Put the batter into the springform pan and smooth.  Sprinkle 35 grams coarsely chopped pistachos over the top.

A very straight forward cake batter preparation.

ready for the oven

Bake for about 30-40 minutes.

just out of the oven

How did this work out?  Well, this is one case where it's important to pay attention to what's going on in your oven.

I baked this for a good 50-55 minutes since the center was still loose after the first 30-40 minutes.

At that point all the signs of doneness were there - a tester inserted in the center came out with moist crumbs, the top was nicely browned, there was no central jiggling when I lightly shook the pan, and it felt firm in the center.  Plus the aroma was enticing!

BUT!  Once this cake cooled it sank significantly in the middle and was still not thoroughly baked through in the center.  Disappointing.  You pay attention, you think it's done, but then . . . .

Perhaps the fact that my springform pan was sitting on an insulated cookie sheet kept the oven heat from getting properly into the center - who knows!

However, all was not lost.  I simply cut out the center goo, sliced the cake and served it with Samantha's roasted banana ice cream (see my next post!).  Pretty tasty indeed.

The cake is dense and buttery with a lovely cardamom-pistachio-chocolate thing going on.

If I were to do this recipe again, I would bake the cake in small flexi-molds or individual cake pans.  The baking time would be less, and the smaller portions would bake through more evenly.

Live and learn.  That's what it's all about.

A pastry year in review and looking ahead

Wow!  It's already January 4 (one of Steve's favorite lines after the new year is "this year is flying by!), and I'm excited about a couple of recently purchased pastry books, compliments of a Schuler's gift certificate from my book lover husband.

Here's a little new-book-preview before I look back at some of the favorite things that I baked in 2015.

Dominique Ansel's The Secret Recipes caught my eye, not because of his cronut fame, but because he shares the history of his pastry profession as well as some of his innovative recipes.  I've just started working my way through the book, and I'm already inspired.

Samantha Seneviratne's the new sugar & spice spoke to me since I'm always trying to think a bit outside the box when it comes to spices and flavor combos.  And her stories of family life in Sri Lanka only serve to enhance the collection of recipes that focus on specific spices such as cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, pepper and more.

And so I look forward to plunging into some new baking adventures.

The cover recipe of Samantha's book is first on my list - pistachio and chocolate butter cake.  Of course I must get some cardamom in the house!

Dominique's "magic soufflé" looks really interesting (and challenging) - brioche dough wrapped around a chocolate ganache filling - man oh man, that should be fun.  I love doing new things with brioche dough, so stay tuned folks!

Now here's a brief pictorial of some of the favorites from this past year.

Galette des rois . . . .

served with chantilly, toasted almonds, fresh citrus and caramel drizzle.

My first English muffins . . . .

served toasted with butter and jam.

Brioche craquelins . . . .

oh so citrusy and crunchy with a crumb to die for.

 Chocolate génoise entremet . . . .

Golden raisin toast apple tart . . . .

Millefeuille chocolat . . . .

 Tarte aux fruits rouge pistache. . . . 

Cannelés bordelais . . . .

Crunchy topped choux  . . . .

Rustic summer crostata . . . .

Gateau Breton . . . .

au naturale
and . . . .

avec crème d'amandes et confiture
Tea flavored shortbread . . . .

Thanksgiving citrus cream tart . . . .

And last but not least a Christmas coconut cream tart . . . .

But I simply can't sign off without a reminder of the perennial favorites . . . .

croissant et pain au chocolat

chausson aux pommes

croissant aux amandes


Here's to a fantastic year of baking and pastry for 2016!!