Dorie Greenspan’s Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

Out of four siblings, three of us have birthdays in July, so that means a lot of baking for me during the month, even if I don’t make my own birthday cake.

Earlier this month, I made Dorie Greenspan’s Devil’s Food White Out Cake for my brother, a cake I’ve made before with my friend J.  Despite a fiasco involving a faulty candy thermometer and burnt sugar and some uneven slicing on my part, the cake turned out great, even if the frosting wasn’t as white as it should be.

This week was my sister’s turn, and she chose Dorie’s Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake as her birthday cake.  In her introduction to this recipe, Dorie said this was “push-button easy to make” and as far as cheesecakes go, it is. Surprisingly enough, this cheesecake doesn’t cook in a water bath (i.e. no risk of scalding yourself with hot water) and is also baked relatively quickly. My all-time favorite cheesecake takes two and a half hours in the oven (one and half with it on, another hour with it off with the door cracked open), whereas this baked in 40 minutes.

All the mixing is done with a food processor, which means everything comes together very quickly, which in turn means less air is incorporated in the batter.  The result is a denser and silkier cheesecake.


I used 54% chocolate and, by mistake, 1/3 cup of sugar instead of the 1/2 indicated in the recipe. Not that my error was noticed by anyone. The cheesecake was delicious, with the subtle saltiness of the cream cheese still shining through the chocolate.


The crust was also quite nice. The punch of cinnamon gives another dimension of flavor to the graham crust and also complements the richness of the chocolate filling.

Overall, this is another wonderful, delicious, and comparatively easy recipe from Dorie Greenspan. And really, I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that something that I made from her cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours is now a family favorite in the making.

Another wonderful chocolate cake option

I already had a tough time choosing between Ina’s and David’s chocolate cake recipes. And here comes another recipe to make the decision making even harder.

Naturally, it was from Dorie Greenspan.

I’ve made Dorie’s Cocoa-Buttermilk Birthday Cake a few times already. Twice without the optional melted chocolate, once with a different frosting, and all those times, the result was fantastic.


The cake had a deep, chocolate flavor, even if the batter is the lightest-colored chocolate batter I’ve ever made. Adding the optional bittersweet chocolate naturally makes the flavor slightly richer, and the batter darker, but it really is not a deal-breaker, in case you can’t spare the chocolate.

I’ve never made anything with malted milk before, and even Google didn’t help in describing what exactly the flavor of “malt” is. What was apparent to me from my Googling is that malt is delicious, and a malted milkshake is always better than a sad, regular milkshake. And maybe the same is true about chocolate frosting. It was thick, fudgy and delicious. The frosting does have a tendency to be grainy (a universal problem, apparently) and even extended mixing with my KitchenAid didn’t result in a smooth frosting. Chilling the frosting seemed to help, but there was still a slight graininess to the finished frosting. No one in my family seemed to mind, judging by the rate the cake was consumed in our house.

So now, I have three, not two recipes to choose from whenever I want/need to make a chocolate cake. Now if only all of life’s decisions were all no-lose situations like this one.

December: Bittersweet Brownies and, yay!!

And just at the nick of time.

I finished what I set out to do when I started my 2012 Cooking Challenge on the last day of the year. Twelve months, thirteen recipes, the last of which was Dorie Greenspan’s Bittersweet Brownies.

And yes, I had to cram this in to make sure that I completed what should have been an easy enough challenge. I picked this recipe because it was easy, I had all the ingredients available at home and because I wanted to try out another brownie recipe after my attempt at Ina’s Outrageous Brownies didn’t come out absolutely perfect. I’m stubborn like that.

And sometimes, persistence pays out:


As you can see from the picture, I had no issues with the texture of these brownies whatsoever. They came out perfectly, and I could slice them without the edges crumbling to pieces.

Taste-wise, these were great, too. Despite the recipe’s name, these didn’t taste as bitter as I expected them to be. Ina’s actually tastes darker and more bitter.

And if you asked me to choose between the two, I couldn’t.  Well, ok, maybe I’ll go with Dorie’s recipe because I know I can make that perfectly. But my pride aside, you really can’t go wrong with any of the two recipes. They both are chocolatey, moist and delicious. I guess it will just be a matter of taste or mood or what kind of chocolate you find in your supermarket. In the mood for something darker, with fudgy and oozy bits of chocolate chips in the brownie? Then go for Ina’s. Could only find bittersweet chocolate at Rustan’s? Then Dorie’s would be perfect.

Ah, if only all of life’s options always turned out so well.

November: Outrageous Brownies

It’s December 30th and here I am, still scrambling to finish my cooking challenge. With Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, I am left one recipe short with one day left in the year. Let’s see what I can scramble to make tomorrow, but for now, let’s get to the brownies.

The original recipe in Ina’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook is huge, requiring 4 sticks of butter, a little over 2 pounds of chocolate and a 12×18 inch baking pan that I don’t think would even fit in my oven. Not to mention the recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, which is hard to find in Manila.

Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Foolproof, has a variation of this recipe which conveniently only uses half of the batter, saving me the trouble of doing the computation myself. I’ve also been able to find locally made unsweetened chocolate (Goya, who knew?), so I finally had everything I needed to make these babies and see if they really are as “outrageous” as Ina claims them to be.


Taste-wise, these do not taste like the brownies we’re used to. Probably because of the coffee powder used, the chocolate taste of these brownies is deeper and richer, even if there are only 3 oz of unsweetened chocolate to 8 of semi-sweet. I love that they taste of darker chocolate, but this might not be recipe to use if you want a sweeter, milk-chocolate-y taste.

Texture-wise… Well. I may have messed things up in that department a little. Weirdly enough, while the brownie wasn’t dry or sandy at all, it was still very crumbly. Is that possible, for something to still be moist but be crumbly? I guess it is, since that’s how these turned out. I don’t know what it was. I took them out of the oven even if the toothpick wasn’t coming out completely clean yet, even if they already baked longer than the 35 minutes recommended by Ina. Maybe it was because I used a glass pan instead of a metal one? Whatever it was, I ended up with this after slicing up the brownies:


Brownie… clumps? I wouldn’t call them crumbs, because they were bigger than that. As you can see, there was a lot of them. And as you can also see, I couldn’t bear to throw them out. I hate things (especially good butter and chocolate) going to waste, and I figured this was a problem (if you could call it that) a little ice cream couldn’t fix.

So despite the initial annoyance at the texture of the brownies did not come out perfect, I guess ending up with yummy ice cream topping is not something I should be complaining about. Two desserts from one recipe is not such a bad outcome for an afternoon.

Chocolate caramel/Speculoos tartlets (a.k.a. little bites of heaven)

I’ve been wanting to make David Lebovitz’s chocolate caramel tartlets for I while now. I thought they would be a perfect way to use up the Trade Joe’s Fleur De Sel Caramels I hoarded bought during my trip. I thought long and hard about buying mini-muffin pans since I didn’t want to spend money on something I will rarely use. I’ve already spent too much money on my assortment of baking pans as it is. And when I finally decided to get them, they took forever to find.

It also took me forever to make these. I only found one 12-slot mini-muffin pan so it took me almost two hours to mold, freeze, bake and cool two and half batches of tartlets (I ended up with 31 tartlets instead of the 24 in the recipe). By the time I was finished, it was almost 2am and I was exhausted, so I left the filling for the next day.


That took quite a while, too. Peeling a bunch of caramels wrapped in super thin plastic wrapping was slow-going, especially when you have to keep washing your hands after you unconsciously lick off the caramel sticking to your finger tips.

And as it turns out, I didn’t peel enough caramels. I made 33% more of the caramel filling since I ended up with more tart shells, but still came up short. While figuring out how much caramel it will take to fill up 5 empty tartlets, I had a genius idea:


Two delicious, heavenly words: COOKIE BUTTER (I won’t even attempt to describe how it tastes. Just go and get some for yourself. NOW. YESTERDAY. Ugggh.).

The tartlets were then topped with a bittersweet chocolate ganache. And the final flourish was a sprinkling of sea salt, in this case, Trader Joe’s Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (I love Trader Joe’s obvs).

And the end product was TO. DIE. FOR. But with chocolate, caramel and Cookie Butter (I daresay I might even like the Speculoos version better, shocker!), how can these tartlets be anything but delicious? Well, unless you screw something up, of course. But it would be hard to even do that, since the recipe is quite straightforward and easy.


And can you imagine the possibilities? If you can’t get your hands on caramel or refuse to fork over the ridiculous PhP 550 stores charge for Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter locally (I’m one of those people, since it’s less than $5.00 at TJ’s), you can use dulce de leche, peanut butter, strawberry or raspberry jam or any other filling you love.

So, go, buy the mini-muffin pans so you can you make these little bite-sized wonders. I actually just bought my second one, a 24-slotted pan. Moment of weakness, you say? But I still have some Trader Joe’s caramels left over and six jars of Cookie Butter to work with, so I’d like to think of the pans as an investment. An investment that will pay delicious, mouth-watering dividends.

Note: Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter is available locally via Blue Kitchen. Although I do think you’re better off having your relatives from the US buy it for you straight from TJ’s for less than $5.00 (there’s still time to ask those coming home for Christmas, go!!! Ask them to get you the caramels, too, while you’re at it!). Also, mini muffins pans are available in 12s and 24s at Cook’s Exchange, which should’ve been the first placed I looked.

August: Devil’s Food White-Out Cake

One of the things on my agenda for my trip to NYC was to meet up with my friend J and for us to cook and bake together. J and I have exchanged literally hundreds of emails talking about food, cookbooks, cooking gadgets, baking pans, Food Network hosts and recipes. I think we even have each other to blame for the other’s KitchenAid mixers. Naturally, we just HAD to cook and bake together when I came over.

We knew what we wanted to cook months ahead of time (champagne risotto from Giada and a chicken dish), but we didn’t know what we wanted to bake. Then it hit us. Duh. We had to bake the cake on the cover of Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook:

We both have the cookbook (it’s J’s fault that I bought one) and have been talking about making the Devil’s Food White Out Cake it for ages, but none of us never got around to it. There really was no other cake we should make together.


The cake layers were pretty straightforward to make. It was the frosting that required a lot more rereads of the instructions, as neither J nor I have ever made a cooked frosting before. To me, it was all very complicated, since a candy thermometer was required (hahaha) and very specific temperature was needed. Between J and I, though, we managed the frosting quite well.

So I put together the cake, as J needed to start on the champagne risotto, and here’s how it turned out:

I had a bit of a tough time crumbing the cake for the topping, as the cake was moist, and the chocolate chips in the layers (yes, there are chocolate chips in the cake!) tended to mush things up. A fork didn’t really work either because of the aforementioned moistness. But I’d rather have big crumbs on my topping than a dry cake, as you can see from the picture.

I thought the cake looked wonderful (if not entirely professional-looking), but we made it, so I’m biased. But the ultimate seal of approval came from Dorie, herself, who replied when I tweeted this Instagrammed picture of the cake:

Of course I favorited the tweet. Duh.


And yes, we loved it. The cake was moist and chocolaty, and the addition of chocolate chips was genius, because you had pockets of real, gooey chocolate embedded in the already chocolaty cake layers. And the frosting was light and smooth, and not too sweet at all. With most marshmallow-y looking icings, you already know they’re too sweet just from looking at them. But this particular one, you have none of that cloying sweetness that makes most people scrape off the frosting from the cake. So even with three layers of frosting, none was left on the dessert plates once we were done with our slices. Yep, even after risotto and chicken.

Now that I think about it, maybe it’s a good thing J and I don’t have that many chances to cook together. I shudder at how much weight we would gain (and how much money would be spent on ingredients) if we cooked together as much as we would like.

May: Baked Chocolate Pudding

I haven’t baked in FOUR weeks. I’ve baked at least once a week since I got my mixer back in January, but a combination of fiscal year end at work, Euro 2012 and sickness has prevented me cooking anything in general.

I was finally able to eke out some time to make something this weekend and I decided to make something for my cooking challenge, since I didn’t want to end up two months behind. Choosing Ina Garten’s Baked Chocolate Pudding was a no-brainer because, well, look at the photo of it in her cookbook:


This was the first thing I wanted to make upon going through Back to Basics when I first got it, and, for the life of me, I cannot understand why I waited this long to bake it.

I realized the folly of my delay even more when I finally got to taste it. It’s gooey, rich and wonderfully chocolatey. It’s great a little warm, at room temperature and even straight from the fridge. It is to die for with vanilla ice cream (I used Merry Moo’s here). My mom likes it with Merry Moo’s Sea Salt Caramel, but I find that the vanilla and chocolate combination can’t be beat (besides, I prefer Sea Salt Caramel on its own).

And the pudding is so easy to make. You don’t even have to wait for butter to get to room temperature since you use it melted anyway. The trickiest part is actually getting it in and out of the oven since you have to bake it in a warm water bath. But if you’re less of a klutz than I am and can move a pan brimming with water without splashing the kitchen floor with it, then the whole process will be a breeze for you.

Even if you are a klutz, though, I still say that you should make this. I daresay all the chocolatey, gooey deliciousness is worth risking the 1st degree burns.

It’s a chocolate cake battle!!

Chocolate cake.

It’s a no-brainer. Any avid baker should have his or her go-to chocolate cake recipe because… well, what would be the point of being able to bake if you can’t make chocolate cake?

And so, in my search for the best one, I turn to two people who have never failed me: Ina Garten and David Lebovitz.

First up is David’s Devil’s Food Cake, which I made for my brother’s birthday. A clarification is required, though. The photo below is of David’s cake, as I didn’t get the chance to take a picture of the cake I made. First I didn’t have good light (I usually bake at night), then I forgot to take a picture during the day, and by the time I remembered to take one, the cake was half gone and the cake platter was a mess. Hence, I’m borrowing David’s picture.

It looks like fudgy chocolate-y perfection, no? And while my cake looks nowhere as good as David’s (he is a pastry chef after all and I am… me), I daresay it’s as fudgy and chocolate-y asI expected it to be. The cake itself was moist and dark while the icing was thick, rich and fudgy. It’s a straightforward, no fuss chocolate cake, the type you want to eat with a tall glass of milk and whose icing you want to lick off the plate fork. In short, it’s perfect.

And I honestly didn’t think Ina’s famous Beatty’s Chocolate Cake could top David’s because I really didn’t know how else the Devil’s Food Cake could be improved on… “Well, how about with coffee?”, says Ina (of course she didn’t really say that). Ina’s recipe has a coffee in both the cake batter and in the frosting. When Ina made this on her show, she said (she actually did say it, this time) that the coffee makes the chocolate taste more… chocolate-y. And I suppose there’s something in that, because David’s recipe for chocolate cupcakes had coffee in the batter as well.


I remembered to take a photo this time, albeit a hurried one with my iPhone

The thing is, you don’t even taste the coffee in the cake itself (or in David’s cupcakes), it still stays a decidedly chocolate cake, not a mocha one, even with the coffee in the batter. It’s a little more pronounced in the frosting. The coffee flavor is definitely noticeable, but not so much that you’d say that the icing was a coffee icing. Chocolate was still the dominant flavor in it.

The cake was a little moister than David’s, although I suspect that that may have to do with the fact that I stored the Devil’s Food in the fridge with only a foil tent over it, whereas Ina’s cake was fully covered in my brand new cake stand.

And so who wins this chocolate cake battle?

I asked my sister which cake she liked better and her answer went a little something like this: “The one with coffee… oh wait. Yeah. That one… Ah, no. The first one (David’s)…. ummm… (thinks about it some more)… yes. I think.” My mother was a bit undecided as well, before settling on Beatty’s.

For me, though, the winner is…

Not David. Not Ina, either.

We all win.

Because what we have here are two excellent, delicious, wonderful chocolate cake recipes. I’ve spent a lot of time and ate a lot of cake (ha!), contemplating which one I preferred and I still couldn’t come up with a winner. And really, why do I need to choose? On one hand, I have a classically perfect cake and on the other, an equally wonderful cake with a slight coffee kick. And, in my book, it would be wrong to pick one over the other.

David wins, Ina wins. My chocolate cake-loving family wins. Like I said, everybody wins.

February: Devil’s Food Cake

The February recipe for my 2012 Cooking Challenge is Nigella Lawson’s Devil’s Food Cake. It’s a cake. It’s made of chocolate. It doesn’t take  that much convincing for me to make it.

I will admit, I was a little daunted, though. For some reason, to me, there’s a lot less room for error in baking a cake versus, say, baking cookies. I just think that a lot more could go wrong: the cake could be too dry, or undercooked (on the other hand I would still eat undercooked cookies), it could be uneven or wobbly.

The frosting for this recipe seemed to be particularly tricky. Commenters on Nigella’s site and on the FoodNetwork page seemed to have a little trouble with getting it to the right consistency.  Once everything was mixed though, I didn’t care if  it turned out too runny to use, there was no way in hell this wasn’t at least going to TASTE good:


Made of bittersweet chocolate, a little sugar, water and butter, the frosting was dark, glossy and beautiful. It smelled so good that I decided that if turns out to be unusable as a frosting, I’ll find a way to eat it anyway. Maybe with ice cream or pancakes or my fingers.

I made the frosting first, as I wanted to give it time to thicken up. Nigella did it the other way around, cake first, but I figured that the frosting will take longer to thicken given our tropical weather.

The cake was a breeze to make, although frosting it was a little harder than expected. The icing, while thick enough, was still pretty… what’s the word… goopy. If I moved too much icing from the sides of the top of the cake, it would quickly trickle down to the sides, resulting in frosting puddles all around the cake plate. So it took me some time to get it looking not like a mess. And I think I did ok, no?


Who cares what it looks like though, what really matters is what it tastes like, right? And at the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn… it is delicious!

The cake itself was surprisingly light and soft but still moist. And I think the lightness of the cake really goes well with the frosting, since the frosting is not the sticky, thick kind. It’s smooth and silky (haha, I feel like I’m talking about hair in a shampoo commercial) and light. Which is not something I can say about the way it tastes. This frosting is quite possibly the most chocolate-y frosting I’ve ever encountered in a cake. It tastes as dark as it looks. Bitter, only a tiny bit sweet, rich and heady, this is not just a chocolate lover’s cake, it’s a dark chocolate lover’s cake.


If dark chocolate is not your thing, though, then maybe you could switch from bittersweet to semisweet for the frosting, or use a combination of both. You could even use milk chocolate, although I think that would be too sweet already. I would suggest that you make the recipe in its original form first, though, before adjusting the chocolate to your taste. I daresay that you’d like it the way it is.

The Ultimate Macaron Taste-off, Pt. 2

And so here we are, part 2 of my taste-off, where I find the best vanilla and chocolate macarons in Paris.

Like I said in part 1, I think these flavors can make or break a patisserie. If you don’t get vanilla or chocolate right, then what hope is there for other, more complicated flavors? But I’m not here to find out who among La Grande Épicerie, Ladurée, La Maison du Chocolat and Pierre Hermé got theirs right, it’s a given that their macarons would be good. I’m here to find out who among them made theirs better than everyone else’s.

Vanilla: from top to bottom: La Maison du Chocolat, Ladurée


Ok, so I feel like I’m cheating here a little bit. I only have two contenders here, and La Maison du Chocolat’s vanilla macaron, as you can see above, is actually vanilla and chocolate. So why the too-short list? Well, La Grande Épicerie doesn’t really have a vanilla-only macaron. When I was there, the only macaron with vanilla that they had was the Kalamansi and Tahitian Vanilla one, and that obviously can’t compete in this category. On the other hand, Pierre Hermé’s Macaron a l’Huile d’ Olive et Vanille, with an actual olive in the middle of it, is not something I’m willing to go through again… and so I’m left with the two above. And if I’m being totally objective, I’d be down to one contender, because La Maison du Chocolat’s is actually, in essence, a chocolate macaron, not a vanilla one. So, by default, the best vanilla macaron in Paris can be found in Ladurée. But that’s not to say Ladurée doesn’t deserve it. Their vanille macaron is delicious, not too sweet or overpowering but still distinctly vanilla, and not some vague, sweet, creamy flavor. So who’s to say that there’s a better vanilla macaron out there?

Chocolate: from left to right: Pierre Hermé and Ladureé (note: I didn’t include La Maison du Chocolat and La Grande Épicerie anymore because I knew they couldn’t stand up to these two anyway)

This was tough. Really. I had to take multiple bites of the macarons because I really couldn’t decide which was better, and no, that’s not just an excuse to eat even more macarons. Like I need an excuse. In my opinion, these two are very similar. They even look the same, apart from the sprinkling of cocoa on the Pierre Hermé one. Both have fillings based on dark chocolate, not milk chocolate, so they’re less sweet, more chocolate-y. But one has a slight edge over the other, in that its flavor is slightly more intense, slightly richer and slightly more bitter. The differences are, in my opinion, very slight, but when you’re looking for the best of the best, the smallest differences matter. So who won this round by the slightest of margins? Pierre Hermé.

And so, the grand dame and the bad boy of the Parisian patisserie scene each win one round in this battle. As it stands, it’s Pierre Hermé-2,  Ladureé-2, La Grande Épicerie-1 and La Maison du Chocolat-0.

But it’s not over yet. In the final part of this series, I saved the best flavor for last: Caramel and Salted Butter. Yuuuummmm.