I set out to bake a traditional Opera Torte, but I ended up getting distracted and took off in an entirely different flavor direction. In the end I created this Blackberry Opera Torte ( which I have named the Diva Cake). It has way more layers than a traditional opera torte, which is not a bad thing at all. Instead of coffee soaked Joconde ( almond sponge cake) and coffee buttercream, this one uses blackberry preserves to flavor the buttercream and then has a layer of fresh berries separating the cake from the spiky meringue. Those fresh berries turned out to be a brilliant layer of protection from the flamethrower I used to toast the meringue. Oh, that is no joke. I got ahold of one of Elon Musk’s Boring Company Flamethrowers and had a blast (see what I did there) torching the top of the cake. You can use a regular kitchen torch to get the job done too. You can watch me make the cake and wild a flamethrower in my instagram video.
By the time I became a pastry chef in the mid 1990s tiramisu, the decadent Italian dessert that defined the 80s, was banned from all high-end restaurants. It was a matter of bad PR, not because it wasn’t well liked or frequently requested. In fact, it was its very popularity that took it down. We pastry chef types just got bored with making it all the time to satisfy the demand. The same fate took down the molten lava cake and flourless chocolate torte. But, as happens with all good things, they find their way back in fashion. I predict the humble tiramisu will find its way onto a menu near you. If I happen to be wrong about this, we can have our own revolution and make it at home. This version was inspired by a recipe from Joanne Chang’s book, Flour. Yes, she apologizes for making it. I stand proud and layer espresso sponge cake, soaked with coffee and booze with rich mascarpone mousse, then top it all with chocolate ganache and raspberries. The trick is to soak the layers just enough to impart flavor and make them delicate, but not so much that they become soggy mush. The bite of the coffee and liqueur is perfectly mellowed by the custard, but none of it is overly sweet. I built them as individuals, using PVC pipe that I had cut to the right size (super cheap), but you can buy circular pastry molds (kind of expensive) or even washed out cans (sweetened condensed milk is just the right size). You can do this exact same recipe in a small trifle bowl or in short water glasses.
Andrew Zimmern was my very first boss out of culinary school – in the 1990s high-end restaurant I mentioned earlier. It was a wild and creative time in my life. He wasn’t eating freaky things, but he was pushing the culinary palate in Minneapolis, and I was lucky enough to be part of that ride. Last week he invited me to visit with him on his podcast Go Fork Yourself. We talked about baking bread in a crock pot, cooking in a dishwasher, vegan egg replacer that is changing the world, to be, or not to be gluten-free and the merits of a sexy index (my new book has one), plus the first time I told him to go fork himself! You can here the podcast here. Read More
This cake makes me think of sitting on the porch swing in my Italian grandmother’s lanai. It was about 1973 and I would have been 6 years old and eating something sweet and spring-like. She had hanging baskets of flowers dangling from the ceiling from elaborately woven macramé; in shades of orange, chartreuse and gold. I’m sure I was eating Jell-o, but it should have been this cassata, with its basket weave icing and magical candied fruit flower. Ok, truth be told, my grandmother isn’t Italian, she didn’t have a lanai, I just like the word, and there probably was macramé, but I don’t actually remember any. But, this cassata makes me wish all these things were true. Not only is it visually stunning, but the cake is so delicious I licked the plate clean.
I really made the cake with my friend Bret, who I’ve known since I taught my very first baking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill about 13 years ago. He is a dynamite chef and baker, and I love playing in the kitchen with him. We decided to make this classic Italian ricotta cake after seeing it on the pages of Saveur magazine, just in time for Easter. Read More
This week was my husband’s birthday and he requested a true American classic for his cake, Boston cream pie. Light pillowy sponge cake with layers of rich vanilla pastry cream and topped with a smooth chocolate glaze. Why do we call this cake a pie? It was invented in the 1850s by a French pastry chef working in Boston. My theory is that he got lost in translation and mistakenly called it a pie! (But I’m making that last bit up.) Whether the name fits or not hardly matters, it is delicious. In fact, my family loved it so much the four of us ate the entire 8-inch cake in one sitting. I was thrilled except I never got a picture of it for this post.
The next day a package arrived in the mail from the White On Rice Couple, Diane and Todd. It was a perfect stick of Vietnamese cinnamon bark. I had won it during a giveaway they had on their fabulous website. It is not an exaggeration to say that this gift has changed my life. Read More