With the world in the grip of a pandemic, I stay at home. My kids and grandchildren visit me in the front garden, most often spaced out around the glass wrought-iron dining table saved from my childhood home. Cautious? Absolutely.
So how do I create my monthly videos with local chefs, sessions taped standing shoulder to shoulder at the stove? I consulted with my editor and friend, Alan Gibbons. We agreed that I would take center stage cooking alone with the camera rolling—until safer times prevail.
I’ve been writing about cooking, food trends, and chefs for more than three decades. Before that, I taught cooking classes, rounding up groups of culinary students to watch and listen as I prepared myriad concoctions. I conducted culinary tours to Europe and Asia long before culinary travel became a thing, and I have written three cookbooks.
Along the way I’ve gathered recipes that I consider old friends, formulas for tried-and-true dishes that I’ve prepared many, many times. Each of these dishes brings back memories of delicious gatherings: fun parties, showers, and holidays.
I’ll start with the Chocolate Candy Box Cake. Unapologetic in its decadence, this almost-flourless chocolate cake looks like a box of candy. Covered in a buttery chocolate glaze, assorted chocolate candies are pushed into place while the shiny glaze is soft. It can be heart-shaped or square, round or rectangular, depending on the theme.
Unfrosted, the cake can be frozen up to two weeks, but be sure to pour the glaze on with the cake defrosted and at room temperature. And don’t refrigerate the cake again. Frosted, it will keep for two days left at room temperature. The glaze takes on a pretty patina, and it stays really moist.
Candy Box Cake
Yield: 12 servings
3/4 cup ground pecans (ground the consistency of cornmeal)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs, room temperature, separated
Optional: 1 tablespoon rum or raspberry liqueur or orange juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Chocolate Butter Glaze:
6 ounces German chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, cut into about 12 pieces
Garnish: assorted chocolate candies (cream centered candies are easier to cut)
- Position oven rack in the lower third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch heart-shaped cake pan with solid vegetable shortening or butter. Dust generously with flour; invert and tap out excess flour. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Use the pan to trace a heart on cardboard; cut out heart and set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine pecans and flour; set aside. Melt butter and chocolate in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat. Stir in water and blend until smooth. Place chocolate mixture in a large bowl and stir in 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Cool 5 minutes.
- Separate eggs, placing yolks in a small bowl and whites in a large bowl or large bowl of electric mixer.
- Stir egg yolks, a little at a time, into chocolate. Add rum or liqueur and nut-flour mixture; stir to combine.
- With an electric mixer or electric hand mixer, whip egg whites on medium-low speed until small bubbles appear and the surface is frothy. Increase speed to high and add 1 teaspoon sugar.
Whip until soft, white peaks form. Scoop 1/3 of egg whites into chocolate and fold with a rubber spatula. Add remaining egg white and fold.
- Scoop batter into prepared pan and smooth surface with spatula. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until it feels soft but not liquid in center. Do not overbake because chocolate firms as it cools.
- Place cake on cooling rack for 20 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife between cake and sides of pan. Place cardboard heart on top of cake and invert. Peel off and discard parchment. Return to cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet
- Prepare glaze. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler (water below should be just below a simmer or simmering very gently. Stir in powdered sugar (it will seem like a paste). Stir in butter one piece at a time, stirring to melt. Once all chocolate is added, stir to combine. Spread the glaze on top and sides of cake. Top with an assortment of chocolate candies, pushing them into the glaze to stabilize their position.
Source: adapted from “The Simple Art of Perfect Baking,” by Flo Braker (Chapters Publishers) and “Simca’s Cuisine” by Simone Beck (Knopf)
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”
–Photos and video by Curt Norris