Monday, March 3, 2008

Happy Birthday at our house today!

We've been busy today getting ready for a little family party tonight for Steve, my sweet husband.

The fun part about this is watching Hayes start to enjoy birthdays and doing things for other people. He had so much fun baking a cake this morning, and can't wait to make a big Happy Birthday sign after nap. He also loves showing off his cheesy grin for pictures, especially with a chocolatey face.

I use birthdays as an excuse to bake. I know this blog should probably be about flowers and decor, but I also know that occasionally one of my other great loves--cooking--especially baking--will probably intrude. So, I wanted to share a few thoughts about dessert today.

1. Elevate your food! If you are serving something wonderful, put it on the pedestal it deserves. It will immediately look even more beautiful, and I think it even tastes better because it has such a special status. I have several cake plates; I like to find them at antique stores and yard sales, but there are some gorgeous new ones out there too. I particularly love Martha's ironstone cake pedestals at Macy's. They are so simple, clean and classic, and look wonderful on their own or in a stack of three. I have several brides this summer planning smaller receptions with cupcakes for their celebration dessert. Wouldn't the set of three pedestals look wonderful covered and surrounded by cupcakes?

2. Chocolate and Raspberries. Heaven. So, today is our family party with an easy chocolate cake that Hayes could help with. But Friday we had a few friends over, and I wanted to make something rich and decadent, chocolatey and sinful. I know that the flourless chocolate cake is ubiquitous, but I finally came up with one that is special. I based my recipe on one from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow (of Fran's Chocolate--a Seattle treasure!), but tweaked things to accommodate one of my favorite ingredients, raspberry chambord, and to make the chocolate a little "darker", not so sweet. It turned out like a dense, velvety mousse with deep raspberry undertones and is pretty amazing if I do say so myself. I think it deserves to be shared. It is easy but impressive!

Decadent Chocolate Raspberry Torte
inspired by Fran Bigelow's Chocolate Espresso Torte

I really love recipes that have just a few simple, perfect ingredients. However, when you cook like this, you must use the BEST ingredients since each will have a strong presence in your finished product. Do make the effort to use good quality chocolate such as Callebaut, Valrhona or Scharffen Berger. Callebaut is my favorite.

*The raspberry chambord sauce is one of our favorites for ice cream, and it is the best way to start the weekend on top of pancakes!

*8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
*8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
*3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
*1/2 cup raspberry chambourd liqueur
*1/4 cup sugar
*8 large eggs, room temperature

1 recipe chocolate butter glaze (follows)

1 recipe raspberry chambord sauce (follows

1. Position rack in middle of the oven, preheat to 300 F. Butter a 9" cake pan and cover the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
2. Melt chocolate in double boiler over low heat. Remove when tiny pieces of chocolate remain. Cut butter into small cubes and begin stirring into chocolate. Butter should easily incorporate; if it separates while melting, allow chocolate to cool more before adding more butter. After all butter is added, allow mixture to continue to cool and thicken until consistency of very soft butter.
3. Place chocolate/butter mixture in bowl of an electric mixer. begin mixing at very low speed and add chambord and sugar slowly.
4. Crack eggs into separate small bowl, whisk just to break yolks and combine. With mixer on low (you do not want to incorporate any air into batter), slowly add eggs in thin stream. Mix just until incorporated.
5. Pour into prepared pan, smoothing the top. Place on a rimmed baking sheet in oven, and add 1/2" water to baking sheet (not cake pan!). Cake pan should be sitting in the hot water while baking, which is called a "bain-marie".
6. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. DO NOT over bake; check carefully starting around 30 minutes. Top should be set, but cake will still jiggle with you shake the pan. A toothpick 1" from edge should come out with crumbs clinging to it, but it should appear underdone if tested any closer to center.
7. Let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Cover loosely, refrigerate additional 30 minutes. Cake should be approximately room temperature when you glaze it.
8. Glaze cake: starting about 1/2" from edge, apply thin line of glaze. Gently push to the edge and smooth so that sides are covered. Pour remaining glaze in center and smooth.
9. Serve cake at room temperature with Raspberry Chambord sauce. Store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Chocolate Butter Glaze
*8 oz. chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (I like a combination, adjust to your taste)
*1 stick unsalted butter

Melt chocolate slowly in double boiler until almost all chocolate is melted. Remove from heat, continue stirring slowly until all chocolate is melted. Slowly add cubed butter and continue to stir until it is incorporated. Allow to cool briefly; glaze should be slightly thick so that it won't run off of the torte, but do not allow it to set-up.

Raspberry Chambord Sauce
*12 oz. frozen raspberries
*1/2 cup water
*1/4 cup (or more if you like a sweeter sauce) sugar
*1/2 cup chambord

Combine raspberries, water, and sugar in saucepan, heat to a boil. Let boil for 3 minutes and remove from heat. Place in fine strainer over bowl and let drain for 30 minutes. You may need to push at pulp with the back of a spoon. When cool, add chambord.

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