Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sisterhood of the traveling [fat] pants

Okay folks. Do the math with me: 9 days divided by 9 pounds = NOT COOL. It would appear that while I gallivanted around the East Coast splinting days between siblings and palling around with the parents- I managed put on some serious weight. Perhaps they were sympathetic pounds for my sister who just gave birth? Oh wait- that's supposed to happen before the baby is born. Riiiiight.

So I'm stressing the seams on my fat pants and am resolving to get back into the gym, cut back on sweets, and generally eat more healthily. I'm hopeful I can stick to my guns but it ain't gonna be easy. When you love to bake as much as I do- it's hard to resist the sweet strains of a chocolate spice cake with hazelnut toffee sauce and toasted salt and pepper pecans or chewy molasses cookies encrusted with chunky sanding sugar (a la Not Martha). I made both this week for hospitality's sake, the former for a dinner we hosted at the house and the latter we brought to a friends house for a showing of Caprica.

The cake itself has risen to superstar dessert status in our house for its delicious decadence and crowd-pleaser promise. So, in order to free myself from the benevolent curse of being "only one who can bake it" which of course means I get to lick the spoons clean and snatch up errant crumbs, I am posting the recipe here for all to use. I guarantee you will love it. Almost as much as I do... if that's even possible.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (+ extra for dusting pan)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 - 1 tsp ground ginger (depending on your love of ginger)
1 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup safflower or canola oil
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

(Preheat oven to 350 and prepare baking pan (or cupcake pan) with nonstick spray and a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder.)

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ground ginger into a large bowl. Mix in the sugar and make a hollow in the center.

Put the oil, eggs, sour cream, and applesauce in another bowl and beat well. Add to the hollow in the dry ingredients and stir gently until thoroughly mixed.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30-45 minutes depending on the pan (less for cupcakes, more for a sheet cake or bundt cake), or until a skewer inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for 10-20 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm. Leftovers can be stored for about a week in an airtight container.

Hazelnut Toffee Sauce (adapted from same)
3/4 cup firmly packed moist light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp Frangelico or other hazelnut liquor

Put the sugar, butter, and cream in a small saucepan and heat gently until melted. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 3 minutes until thick and toffee-like. (I never really get to a super-thick state but it tastes delicious either way...) Pour into a heatproof pitcher and let cool. Stir in the vanilla and liquor. Depending on the final consistency, pour or spread over your cake to serve.

Toasted Salt and Pepper Pecans

1 1/2 cup shelled pecans (halved, whole, or crumbled)
1 tbsp salt
3 or 4 grinds of fresh pepper from a shaker
a few shots of canola cooking spray
Heat pecans in a nonstick pan over medium until you begin to smell the toastiness. Evenly spray the pecans lightly with canola oil spray and toss to just barely cover. Add salt and pepper and toss gently over medium heat until pecans are slightly browned. Remove from heat and transfer the pecans to a bowl. Either chop, crush, or pulverize as desired and sprinkle with wild abandon over your toffee covered cake.

*This book was a fantastic find and I would recommend it to anyone- though not at the price listed at Amazon. I've had nothing but success with all of the recipes I've made, including the Citrus Summer Cake (see photo) and the tangy Lemon Curd. If you're in a pinch and need a fantastic, easy cake- I'd pick up this book.

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