New Year's resolutions have notoriously short lifetimes, but for a blogger in Pittsburgh named Laurie Woodward, a promise to herself became an Internet sensation.
Woodward was inspired to bake one recipe each week from Dorie Greenspan's popular cookbook Baking From My Home To Yours. And she found plenty of company — more than 100 bakers decided to take up the challenge with her. Every week, they made a recipe and posted their cooking stories to the online community Tuesdays with Dorie.
After four years and more than 370 recipes baked and dissected, Tuesdays with Dorie's first chapter ended in December 2011 — when the online group polished off every one of the recipes from Baking From My Home To Yours.
Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan joins NPR's Neal Conan to talk about baking and the online community she inspired.
Recipe: Chocolate Armagnac Cake
From Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan
This cake is an intensely chocolaty chocolate cake made with ground pecans and chunks of prunes soaked in fabulously aromatic Armagnac. The cake is a variation on a restaurant's specialty, which was made with ground almonds and whiskey-soaked raisins (see "Playing Around," below). That cake, in turn, was a slight variation on a cake created by Simone Beck, a French cook best known in America as one of Julia Child's co-authors on Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I lost my job because of improvising on this cake, but I got to keep the recipe — a trade-off I now consider ample.
Makes 8 servings
For the cake
2/3 cup finely ground pecans (or walnuts)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 plump, moist prunes, pitted if necessary and cut into bits
1/4 cup Armagnac (or Cognac, brandy or Scotch whiskey)
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons water
3 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
For the glaze
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter an 8-inch springform pan, fit the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment or wax paper and butter the paper. Dust the insides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.
TO MAKE THE CAKE: Whisk together the nuts, flour and salt.
Put the prunes and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, being careful not to scorch the fruit, until the water almost evaporates. Pull the pan from the heat and pour in the Armagnac, stand back and set it aflame. When the flames die out, transfer the fruit and any remaining liquid to a bowl and let cool. (If it's more convenient, you can flame and steep the prunes up to 1 day ahead. Pack the prunes and their liquid into a covered jar and keep at room temperature.)
Combine the chocolate, butter and 3 tablespoons water in a heatproof bowl, set it over a pan of simmering water over low heat and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; or do this in a microwave oven. Remove the chocolate from the heat just as soon as it is melted and not very hot—you don't want the chocolate and butter to separate.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Switch to a rubber spatula and, one by one, stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, the nut mixture, and the prunes with any liquid.
Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold firm, glossy peaks. Stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Turn the batter into the pan.
Bake the cake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until it is puffed, firm on top and starting to come ever so slightly away from the sides of the pan; a thin knife inserted into the center will come out streaky — the cake should not be wet, but you don't want it to be completely dry. Transfer the cake to a rack and let it cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of the pan. Invert the cake, pull off the paper and turn right side up to cool to room temperature. The cake should be absolutely cool before you glaze it.
GETTING READY TO GLAZE: If the cake has crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even the top. Turn the cake over onto a cooling rack— you want the very flat bottom of the cake to be the top. Put a piece of wax paper or foil under a cooling rack to serve as a drip catcher.
TO MAKE THE GLAZE: Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, or in a microwave oven. Remove it from the heat and, using a small spatula, stir in the sugar, then the butter, a bit at a time, stirring until you have a smooth glaze.
Have a long metal icing spatula at hand. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the excess to run down the sides, and use the spatula to smooth the top of the cake if necessary — usually the glaze is a self-spreader — and to even it around the sides of the cake. Let the glaze set at room temperature or, if you want to speed it up, slide the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.
Serving: The cake should be served at room temperature — chill it, and you'll diminish its flavor and compact its texture. That said, there are lots of people, my husband included, who like the cake cold, because then it becomes more fudgy. Cream, whipped or ice, is a welcome accompaniment.
Storing: The cake can be kept at room temperature for a day or wrapped well and refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring it to room temperature before serving.
CHOCOLATE WHISKEY CAKE. The original cake by Simone Beck featured raisins and Scotch, rather than prunes and Armagnac. If you'd like to use that combination, put 1/4 cup raisins and 1/4 cup Scotch whiskey in a covered jar and shake the jar a few times. Let the raisins steep for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day), turning the jar upside down and then right side up from time to time. When you add the raisins to the batter, add whatever whiskey remains as well.