Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Decadent Double Chocolate Ganache Christmas Cake with Pecan Praline Icing

Just to look at this heavenly chocolate cake will make your mouth water!  Honestly, this is definitely one of the best cakes I've eaten. It's a triple layered moist chocolate cake with a rich ganache filling and a homemade toasted pecan candy-like praline icing on top that runs over the sides. In Ina Garten's words, "How can that be bad!?!"

This is such a wonderful cake to make.....the second time around.  The first time I baked this cake was for my husband whenever he graduated from his undergrad, in December '07.  I decided to make this particular cake because it looked like a very special cake meant for a Christmastime occasion.  This cake isn't only reserved for the best because it is simply beautiful and irresistible (although it is) but because it was a pill to make the first time around.  This was my very first totally made from scratch, and when working in a tiny apartment kitchen with little counter top space it was a challenge!  One mistake I made was not greasing and flouring the pans nearly enough, therefore causing some of the edges of the cake to stay in the pan. The cake turned out a little lopsided, but with all the frosting you couldn't really tell.  I do believe that baking this in a larger kitchen made everything a bit easier this time, and so it turned out straight and more beautiful!  I thoroughly enjoyed the baking process this time.  I love to roast nuts in the oven and allow them to fragrance my home, and licking the silky cake batter off of the wooden spoon after the cakes are in, and watching the bits of rich chocolate melt slowly into the cream and butter as the ganache comes together. *Sigh.

 I am learning more about this cake each time I make it.  The last time I made it the night before my husbands birthday, because I always think cake are better whenever they sit for a day or two.  The next time though, I think that I will bake the cake and spread the ganache on the night before, but I'm going to wait to make and put the praline icing on until soon before eating, or at least the day of.  You will know exactly why whenever you make this and you are pouring the hot pecan praline icing over the cake and it is still glistening and buttery.  The warm icing just about 1 hr. after pouring it on would be a perfect time to eat this cake.  So you will have the best of both worlds: a moist cake, and warm icing!

If you make this delicious cake, I hope that you enjoy every step of the process and take in all the delicious smells and tastes along the way.  Perfect with a hot cup of coffee or cold glass of milk.  Although we never want anything else, a scoop of butter pecan ice cream would make this dessert over the top! This cake reminds me of why I love chocolate and the holidays!


1c. butter or margarine                
1/4c. baking cocoa
1c. water
1/2c. buttermilk
2 eggs
1tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Chocolate Ganache
Praline Frosting
Garnish:chopped pecans

  Cook first three ingredients in a saucepan, stirring constantly, until butter melts and mixture is smooth; remove from heat. Cool.
  Beat buttermilk, and next 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add butter mixture to buttermilk mixture, beating until blended.  Combine sugar, flour and salt; gradually add to buttermilk mixture, beating till blended.  (Batter will be thin.)
  Coat 3 (8 in.) round cake pans with non stick spray (I use the one specifically for baking) and line the bottoms with was paper.  Pour batter evenly into pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 22-24 mines or until set.    Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes.  Remove carefully from pans and cool layers completely.  I do not remove paper from cakes until they are completely cooled.

  Spread about 1/2 c. ganache between cake layers; spread remainder on sides of cake only (not on top). Chill cake 1/2 hour.  Pour frosting slowly over the top of cake; spreading to edges, allowing some frosting to run over the sides.  Freeze if desired; thaw at room tempurature 4-6 hours.  Garnish with chopped pecans, if desired.
Makes 10-12 servings.

Chocolate Ganache
2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 c whipping cream
1/4 c. butter or margarine, cut into pieces

I use a double boiler (a large bowl over a pan of simmering water) to melt the chocolate chips and whipping cream together.  Almost constantly stirring until the chocolate is very smooth.Gradually add the butter.  Cool, whisking often, 15-20 minutes or until spreading consistency.  Makes about 2 cups.

Praline Frosting
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 c. brown sugar, packed
1/3c whipping cream
1c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. chopped pecans, toasted

Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat, stirring often.  Boil for one minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add toasted pecans, stirring gently 2-5 minutes or until frosting begins to thicken slightly.  Pour immediately over cake. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

*This is a candy-like frosting that hardens quickly, so make it right before pouring it over the cake.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Linzer Cookies

Christmas is a time for baking, giving, sharing good food and company along side the twinkling Christmas tree and a cozy fire. Welcoming friends and family into our home around the holidays especially means alot to my husband and I, so last year we decided to start a new tradition.  (Traditions are very important in my family, so I am excited to start one to include friends, as well.) A couple of weeks ago Heath and I hosted our 2nd Annual Cookies and Cocoa with the Cates' party! Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and always has been as a child, and so it only makes sense to throw a Christmas party with some of my favorite Christmas treats!  These Linzer cookies are a new addition to my holiday cookie collection, and I was surprised at how wonderfully delicious and beautiful these small confections were.  You can make these cut out hazelnut-spiced cookies in any shape, but I chose Christmas trees.  I thought the dusting of the powdered sugar would make them look like little snow capped evergreens, almost too cute to eat.  (Not quite!)

You may find other yummy recipes for these cookies that call for other nuts such as almonds, but I was drawn to the hazelnuts.  I have never baked with hazelnuts before and was drawn to their Dickens-esque quality and fragrance when roasted that makes you  wish you were in the snowy streets of 19th century London.  I am sure that I made the right decision, because these cookies couldn't be better!  As with any roll-out and cut cookies they are time consuming with the chilling the dough and after baking spreading the jam and dusting with sugar....but honestly I completely enjoying every step.  It's almost relaxing to me to get in the routine of something as simple as spreading delicious, sweet jam and then later letting the powdered sugar "snow" down on the finished cookie.  The  fact that each batch of cookies only take 4-5 minutes to bake was great, so the baking itself wasn't long at all!
These jewel toned, buttery, Christmas Linzer Cookies lit up the table and everyone just loved them!

*Tip- Though the original recipe calls for seedless raspberry jam, I used one with seeds and just loved the look of the tiny black seeds in the red jam.  They will not get in your teeth, and it tastes just the same.
       - About the baking sheets, I like to use a shiny metal or non stick cookie sheet the best, but when using a dark baking sheet, put parchment paper on the sheet first so the cookies with bake more evenly and not brown the bottoms too much in the oven.

3/4 c. hazelnuts
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 sp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
powdered sugar
1/2 cup raspberry jam

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread hazelnuts in ungreased shallow baking pan.  Bake uncovered about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Rub nuts in a kitchen towel to remove loose skins (some may not some off); cool 5-10 minutes. Turn off oven.

2.In a food processor bowl with metal blade, place nuts and 1/4 c.of the brown sugar.  Cover; process with about 10 on and off pulses, until nuts are finely ground but not oily.  I used a blender, and it worked well.

3. In a small bowl, mix flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; set aside.

4.In a large bowl,beat butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar with mixer on medium speed about 3 minutes 'til smooth.  Add nut mixture; beat about 1 minute or until mixed. Beat egg and vanilla.  With spoon, stir in flour mixture about 1 minute just until blended.  Shape dough into 2 balls and flatten each ball into a disk. Wrap separately in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours or until firm.

5.Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Take out one of the dough disk and on a well floured surface roll the dough with a floured rolling pin until about 1/8 inch thick.  Cute with about a 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter.  On ungreased cookie sheets, place cutouts about 1 inch apart.

6.Roll and cut other half of dough.  Using a 1 inch square or round cutter, cut out the center of half the cookies.  Reroll dough centers and cut out more cookies.

7.Bake 4-5 minutes or until the edges are light golden brown.  Remove the cookie sheets to cooling rack. Cool about 10 minutes.

8. Dust powdered sugar over cookies with center cutouts.  Spread about 1 tsp. of the jam over bottom side of each cookies. Top with a cut-out cookie.  Cool completely, about 1 hour.