Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

This is a recipe I’ve been making for years. Something my aunt shared from an old Better Homes & Gardens magazine long ago. It’s my favorite chocolate cake. Period. I love it for its simplicity, its texture, and its versatility. I create a new version of this cake anytime I want by adding a sprinkling of something into the batter, or on top of the cake before baking, or drizzling or dusting or frosting after baking. The recipe is for just one layer, which often is quickly baked in my kitchen for a snack. Yes, I said snack. It’s not loaded with butter, and on the scale of sweet treats, it’s not very sweet or rich, and it’s practically a health food what with all the olive oil, right? I think eating this can actually make you live longer…at least, I’m going to find out. It can also be doubled or tripled. Need a three layer cake (I sometimes do)? Just triple the recipe, triple the cake pans, and you’re there.

So, I’m finally sharing this gem. A sweet friend had a birthday recently, and I decided she must have cake! I was in the mood to do something a little unexpected, so I scattered a small handful of cocoa nibs over the top and a tiny bit of Maldon sea salt. Everyone was gone for the day, so I was able to actually bake two, send one off with my friend and take a photo of this one before it was devoured (which is why it has taken so long to post — these hungry people in my house eat everything before I get a photo!). Craving chocolate cake yet? Good. In about 45 minutes, start to finish, you can have one hot out of the oven.

DarkChocolateOliveOilCake

Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

“One-Bowl Chocolate Cake” recipe from Better Homes & Gardens, April 2004: “Healing, Giving, Baking”, adapted by Stephanie Kunstle and renamed in honor of adaptation (and because I hate dull names)

Note: If you’re at high altitude, pay attention to my adjustments to the baking soda and baking powder. Because the soda is the main leavening agent, if you use the full amount, it will rise too much and too fast and then crash under the weight of this insane atmospheric pressure and you’ll end up with a sad little well in the center of your cake (and if this happens, throw a scoop of ice-cream into the well and say you did it on purpose — tips from an expert).

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (I usually use a nice Dutch process Belgian cocoa, but a natural cocoa is also delicious)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda (if you’re at high altitude, measure it and shake a bit out…so you are using a scant 1/2 tsp.)
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder (again, if at high altitude, use a scant 1/4 tsp.)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • OPTIONAL: a cup of dark chocolate chips to fold into batter, a small handful of cocoa nibs, a little sea salt (about 1/2 tsp), or roasted nuts to scatter over the batter in the pan just before baking, powdered sugar or just cocoa powder for dusting after baking and just before serving, or a powdered sugar and citrus glaze to drizzle, or your favorite buttercream or cream cheese frosting.

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly dust a (9″ x 1.5″ OR 8″x 8″x 2″) cake pan with cocoa powder.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine well. Add milk, olive oil, and vanilla. Beat with whisk attachment on medium-low speed until just combined, then beat on high for 2 minutes. Add the egg, and beat on high for another 2 minutes. If you want to add dark chocolate chips or chunks, fold those in now. Pour batter into prepared cake pan. If you want to scatter good things on top of your batter, do that now.
  3. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until a wooden toothpick comes out clean (I start checking it around 25 minutes). Cool cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan by inverting onto rack, then invert onto your hand, and slide it right side up onto the rack (this avoids those mean rack lines on the top of your cake). Cool thoroughly on the rack.
  4. To serve, dust with a bit of powdered sugar (I put mine in a sieve and shake it over the top) or do the same with cocoa powder. Or if it pleases you, go big and drizzle with a nice glaze or frost away (and layer if you have more than one). Enjoy!

 

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Patatas Bravas

Three years ago, Dave and I celebrated our tenth anniversary in Barcelona. For all the traveling we had done before we met each other and then over the decade we had been together, I had never been to Spain. Now completely familiar with my night owlishness, and my inability to function (let alone speak…or be spoken to without visible annoyance) before 10 am, Dave was excited to introduce me to this country he loved and from which I probably inherited these charming characteristics. The Spanish ancestry on my mother’s side gives itself away every now and then.

As predicted, I LOVED Barcelona. Art, architecture, Spaniards walking around speaking Catalan and Spanish all day long and mistaking me for one of their own, the Med just a short walk away…and the food. Served at all the right times. Breakfast late morning, lunch late afternoon, and dinner at midnight. And then there was the perfect lull between lunch and dinner when we’d stop for tapas and a glass of wine. There were so many delicious little bites to try, and to my amazement, a favorite turned out to be potatoes. Fried potatoes. With a spicy tomato sauce for drizzling or dipping. Patatas Bravas.

We had friends over recently who love good food and wine, and as much fun as it can be to serve a long meal over several courses, I wanted something more casual but just as delicious. So with Dave as my sous chef, we set to work preparing several tapas, which gives everyone the excuse to just snack their way straight through the evening and open several wines. Trying to stay true to the idea of tapas, with some focus on traditional Catalonian tapas, Patatas Bravas made the list. But I knew it would be hard to achieve a crispy potato without the luxury of an industrial deep fryer like a restaurant would have. So, having never made these in my life, but with a vivid memory of what they tasted like overlooking the Plaça Reial, I did what I always do. I experimented on our guests. I roasted the potatoes in the morning, let them sit at room temp during the day, and then fried them right before serving. Hot and crispy potatoes paired with a homemade spicy tomato sauce and it was a taste of Barcelona right here at the kitchen table.

PatatasBravasTTP

Patatas Bravas

Recipe by Stephanie Kunstle, inspired by Barcelona and some web research

Note: serves 6 people, and this recipe will make about 6 oz. of spicy tomato sauce

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes sliced into wedges
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Good sea salt
  • Lots MORE extra virgin olive oil for frying
  • 15 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1/2 yellow or sweet onion (I had a Walla Walla sweet on hand), chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. roughly ground dried chile (not completely ground, but not left as “flakes”)
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Scrub potatoes and slice into wedges, not too thin and not too thick. Just go with your gut on this one.
  3. Put the potatoes into a large ziplock bag, drizzle generously with olive oil and sea salt and shake to completely coat the potatoes.
  4. Spread the potatoes over a large baking sheet, and roast for about 45 minutes, flipping about halfway through the roasting time for even browning.
  5. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  6. Meanwhile, add about 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil to a small saucepan, over just medium heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté for about 5 minutes or so until softened but not browned.
  7. Add the whole peeled tomatoes and gently break them down a little with a wooden spoon. Add the paprika, chile, and cayenne. Turn heat down to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Much of the water from the tomatoes will cook out, but you do need to make sure the heat is low enough that the sauce can slow cook without burning and completely drying out. Just keep your eye on it and stir!
  8. I used a potato masher to fully crush the whole tomatoes, but it isn’t necessary. Add salt to taste, you know it’s just right when the sauce is just singing to you!
  9. Puree tomato mixture, checking to make sure there is enough salt. A food processor or blender will work, but if you have an immersion blender, put the sauce in a large liquid measuring cup, and use your immersion blender in this. It will be perfectly smooth.
  10. Meanwhile, in a large skillet (I used a big cast iron skillet), pour in enough extra virgin olive oil to create a depth of about an inch and 1/2. Heat over medium flame until oil is starting to move a bit on its own, but be sure it doesn’t get so hot that it smokes. Burned oil will ruin the flavor. If you aren’t sure that the oil is hot enough, just add one slice of potato to test the heat. It should start frying immediately if the oil is ready.
  11. In three batches, fry the roasted potato wedges for about 1 minute or so on each side until crispy and fully golden. Remove to a bowl lined with paper towels, and scatter with sea salt.
  12. Serve potatoes hot with the spicy tomato sauce and enjoy!

Posted in anytime, summer | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Insalata Caprese

It’s an addiction. If you’re following on Instagram you have proof of  my total, sold-out, one-track, amore di caprese. I love delicious tomatoes, basil is one of my all time favorite herbs, and then there’s fresh buffalo’s milk mozzarella or better yet, burrata… just TALK TO ME. For as long as I’ve been cooking and eating, there’s been a lot of “insalata caprese” in my life. They began very formulaic and mundane. You know: slice of tomato, with a slice of mozzarella, topped with a basil leaf. And repeat. A little olive oil and balsamic and it’s done. Sadly, I still see these caprese stereotypes everywhere I go. Lacking in imagination and lacking in what could be even better flavor.

So, I’m sharing an Instagram shot to show you that in this case, breaking the “rules” is just prettier, tastier, and way more fun. There’s something so satisfying when you cut into a fresh round of mozzarella or burrata, so the ol’ slice and stack method is a kill-joy for you and everyone else. I also tend to prefer smaller cherry or grape sized tomatoes which have more flavor than big, round, run-of-the-mill red hothouse tomatoes. Gorgeous heirlooms in season are my exception to this rule — in this case, bigger can be better. And adding a tiny bit of acid with some fresh squeezed lemon juice just plays up all the bright flavors, and balances the heavier flavor of oregano. Yes, that’s right. Dried oregano. Very traditional and very delicious. Cannot be skipped. And finally, aside from a generous drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, there MUST be good sea salt which creates both crunch and brings out the best in a tomato. Finally, almost never pictured is the aged balsamic vinegar. This, in my opinion, is something each person should add to their own serving of caprese. Adding it before it’s served muddies the presentation and I think it should be drizzled in the amount each person has a taste for.

It’s really that simple. So go out and find the best ingredients you can lay your hands on, and enjoy.

CapreseTrianglePlate

Insalata Caprese

Recipe by Stephanie Kunstle

Note: serves about 4 to 6 if you’re behaving yourself, but to be honest, this will often serve two of us if we make it the main part of our lunch with some rustic bread..and why not?

Fast Fact: The word “caprese” (pronounced ca-pray-say but with flourish) means from Capri. This is simply a salad named for its location of origin, the island of Capri.

Ingredients:

  • a large round of mozzarella di bufala, or burrata
  • good tomatoes, in season, preferably grown in the sun
  • plenty of fresh basil, just picked from the plant if you can get it
  • a large pinch of dried oregano
  • half a lemon
  • good extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 good pinches of an extra delicious salt, like maldon or fleur de sel

Preparation:

  1. Place your mozzarella or burrata on a plate or platter. Surround it with tomatoes…sliced or not, it’s up to you. If they are large, do at least chunk them to make serving easier.
  2. Arrange fresh basil leaves however you wish. Sometimes I julienne them and scatter the ribbons all over. Other times I tear the leaves, and scatter. Or I will leave them whole and create a bouquet to pull from as the caprese is served. It’s up to you. It’s your artistic interpretation of caprese.
  3. Gently squeeze the lemon over the arrangement. You don’t want tons of lemon juice, but a gentle drizzle evenly distributed.
  4. Now drizzle generously with a good extra virgin olive oil, hitting the tomatoes, cheese, and basil.
  5. Crush the dried oregano in your palm with your fingers or crush between your fingers as you lightly scatter it over the tomatoes and cheese.
  6. Finally, add your salt to the arrangement, giving an extra heavy hand to the top of the cheese for texture.
  7. Serve with a good bottle of aged balsamic (truly, this stuff can be liquid gold both in price and in flavor…and so worth it).

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