Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake

chocolate ancho cake resizedI love celebrating my birthday. The gathering of friends and family around a big dinner table to enjoy the meal of my choice and a delicious dessert of birthday cake with candles and singing. Oh it’s so much fun!

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My birthday cake of choice is an angel food cake with berries and whipped cream. I’ve picked it every year since I was a kid. But this year, I decided to change it up. I was craving a rich decadent chocolate cake. This cake in particular is made without flour to create a dense fudgy cake that fulfills any chocolate craving. It also pairs bitter chocolate harmoniously with the sweet fruity notes in spicy ancho chili pepper to create a perfectly deep chocolatey treat. Garnished with a dollop of citrusy lime whipped cream, this Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake is the perfect dessert to impress guests or a special birthday person.

Indulge and enjoy!

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Chili Spiced Chocolate Cake
Makes an 8 inch cake

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped                                                                      1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes                                                                            3/4 cup granulated sugar                                                                                                   3 large eggs                                                                                                                    1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder                                                                                  1-1/2 Tbsp ancho chili powder – no need to be nervous about the amount of ancho chili powder added, the rich chocolate will mellow out its spicy flavour

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Butter an 8 inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the buttered pan with parchment paper and grease with butter.

In a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt chocolate with butter until smooth. Whisk in sugar. Add eggs and whisk well.

Sift cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and sprinkle with ancho chili powder. Whisk until just combined. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the top of the cake has formed a crust.

Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 5-10 minutes. Invert cake onto a serving plate and let cool completely. Sprinkle with cocoa powder. Serve each slice of decadent cake with a dollop or two of lime whipped cream.

Lime Whipped Cream

1 cup whipping cream                                                                                                   Zest from 1 lime                                                                                                                   1 Tbsp icing sugar

Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk together the whipping cream, lime zest and icing sugar until light and fluffy.

The Fresh Sheet…Plums

This September couldn’t possibly get any better: the sun is shining, morning greets with an energizing crispness and the afternoons are still blazing hot. You almost forget that the rainy season is just around the corner as you laze around the park enjoying all that delicious late summer fruit. Of course, should the weather turn less than hospitable, you now have plenty of reason to bake. On one such day, I ventured over to my friend Melissa’s house to bake clafoutis.

There is an abundance of plums in early September and for most, this turn of events goes uncelebrated. Few wax lyrical about plums in the way you might about lush summer peaches or raspberries. They are not prescribed to keep the doctor away, as the apple. And because they arrive with so much bounty in our midst, it could be easy to give them a pass but I urge you to indulge when the time comes. Plums are subtle, their charms best coaxed out with a bit of attention. Even if it is just a bit of manchego and a drizzle of honey.

My friend Melissa has a beautiful food blog and so we thought it might be fun to spend a little time in the kitchen together (and then share the spoils with you!). I am not much of a baker, so I suggested we try our hand at clafoutis. It sounds quite fancy but clafoutis is actually a simple, rustic and cozy dessert (or breakfast. Who am I kidding?). With the texture of baked custard crossed with bread pudding, it is perfect for a rainy day, warm and fragrant out of the oven.

Plum Clafoutis

Melissa and I adapted the clafoutis recipe from the lovely Gluten Free Girl, who was in turn inspired by Julia Child’s original recipe. This is baking for the improvisateur: switch up the fruit, the flours…it will all work. Our first go-round was quinoa and almond flour but the quinoa is a bit earthy in flavour. For those well-accustomed to “earthy” flavours, it is a great gluten-free option. Oat flour was lovely and will definitely be a crowd pleaser if you are looking to avoid wheat. We also experimented with 3 large pears, poached in sugar, cinnamon and cardamom. Perfect for when late summer turns to autumn.

Serves 6

3 cups plums, pitted and chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp honey
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup natural cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla (no artificial extracts, please!)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup oat flour

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the prepared plums with the honey in a large bowl and let them marinate as you get the batter going.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Place the flours in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk the egg/milk mixture into the flours until you have a smooth batter; it will resemble a thin pancake batter.

Grease a 7-8 cup (roughly 8 x 12 inch) baking dish or 9 inch pie plate with butter. The deeper and smaller the dish, the creamier the clafoutis. Scatter the honey-coated plums over the bottom of the dish. Carefully pour the batter over the fruit. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the top is golden and crisped.

Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Local Food Challenge…Frozen Blueberry Yogurt

On a hot summer day, nothing beats a chilly treat. And we’ve got a tasty recipe that’s simple and super fast to make. You can literally whip this one up in 2 minutes! The bonus is that it’s a healthy choice too. With only 2 local ingredients, it allows the natural flavour of the foods to come through. This is true local eating at its best. 

Super Quick Frozen Blueberry Yogurt
makes 2 cups or 4 small servings

2 cups frozen BC blueberries
1 cup plain yogurt, preferably 2- 3.5% M.F. – The little bit of fat makes this treat creamier than if you use fat-free yogurt.

Place the blueberries in a food processor and pulse several times to break up the blueberries. Add the plain yogurt. Blend until mixture is smooth and looks like delicious blueberry ice cream. Serve immediately.

This is a simple and easy recipe that has lots of room to be creative. Although blueberry is my favourite, this recipe is delicious using frozen peaches, strawberries, blackberries, cherries or other local fruit. Raspberries are also fun for a tart frozen treat.

Enjoy that local food!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Cherries

I indulge in these delightful treats as I write this post. One bite is all it takes to get addicted to these summer treats. They will replace the much loved chocolate dipped strawberries. Sweet BC cherries dipped in rich dark chocolate and chilled to the perfect temperature. A few wholesome ingredients, super simple to make and impressive for the main dessert at any summer event or a delightful afternoon pick-me-up. These are definately a summer treat you have to try.

I believe there are 2 ways to enjoy these unbelievably delicous cherries:
1. Hold them by their stem and take a bite off one side. You’ll bite into the deep rich chocolatey crust and then get a burst of chilly sweet cherry flavour. Continue to take bites until all you’re left holding is a cherry pit and stem.
2. But my favourite way to eat’em is to hold the end of the stem between your first finger and thumb, tilt your head back and drop the whole decadence into your mouth. Pull on the stem to release the treat and bite down into its delicious flavour. Savour every chew or let it melt in your mouth. And then of course, spit out the pit!

Dark Chocolate Dipped Cherries
8 oz (225 g) good quality dark chocolate
1 Tbsp. butter
about 30 sweet BC cherries with their stem intact (or cherries from wherever you live) – I prefer the flavour of the sweet red ones paired with dark chocolate, but you can certainly use the Rainier yellow cherries as well.

I prefer to melt my chocolate over a hot water bath or double boiler. If you prefer, feel free to use the method that you’re most comfortable with.
Fill a saucepan with 1 inch of water. Find a bowl that fits securely over the saucepan.
Coarsely chop chocolate. Combine chopped chocolate with butter in the bowl. Place the bowl over the saucepan and heat the water over medium-low heat. You want to slowly melt the chocolate. Stir frequently and ensure the water doesn’t get too hot (rapid boil). When most of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and wipe the bottom with a cloth. Stir a few times and allow the remaining chocolate to melt completely. Get ready to dip!
Dip each cherry into the dark chocolate. You can dip the entire cherry or leave a little section at the top undipped. Twirl to let the extra chocolate drip off. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Continue with remaining cherries. With this hot summer heat, I chill my cherries and keep them in the refrigerator until ready to serve. But if it’s cool enough in your neighbourhood or if you have air conditioning, you can let them set at room temperature.

These treats make great desserts for any barbecue, picnic or summer get together. Make it even more fun with a cherry pit spitting contest!

Campfire Treats for Canada Day

Who doesn’t love the sticky, gooey, sweet and creamy s’more? There are some things that just can’t be improved upon – memories are made sitting around a campfire after a day of fresh air and relaxation, enjoying the warm glow while holding a meditative gaze over toasting marshmallows. Everyone has their signature toast: some like just a light amber while others like to char the outside to reveal the molten cream underneath. While there is nothing better than campfire s’mores, there is something much better than store-bought marshmallows. Think homemade. Candy can be tricky but nothing could be simpler than a marshmallow. I am certainly not the pastry chef of this dynamic duo but even I got it right the first try. My first go-round at les macarons, not so much.

I am not going to lie…this is not exactly health food. But we all need a treat every now and then and making marshmallows at home means you control the quality of ingredients. I am not a fan of corn syrup so I substituted agave with great results. You could also use honey if you prefer. You won’t end up with a perfectly white marshmallow but a soft off-white which is beautiful in its own right. So as you get prepared for your long weekend camping trip, consider adding  Coconut Ginger Dream S’mores and Fiery Cinnamon S’mores to the menu for this Canada Day. And if you aren’t lucky enough to be heading out of the city, make them anyway. Sit on your deck, plug in some nature sounds on your iPod, close your eyes and pretend.

Fiery Cinnamon S’mores
Feeds a crowd…a great s’more for the less sugar-inclined.

1 pkg graham crackers (note: Kinnikinnick makes a lovely gluten free version)
2 100g bars of chili pepper chocolate  (I used Lindt)
1 recipe Cinnamon Marshmallows (below)

Coconut Ginger Dream S’mores
Feeds a crowd…these are the sweeter s’more

1 pkg Nairn’s Stem Ginger Oat Cakes (I like these better than store-bought ginger snaps, also wheat free)
2 100g bars 85% cacao chocolate (I used Lindt; trust me on the 85%, it cuts the sweetness)
1 recipe Dreamy Coconut Marshmallows (below)

If you are near a campfire, you know what to do.

Otherwise, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Assemble s’mores on a cookie sheet and bake for just a minute or two, until everything starts to get melty and delicious. Consume with abandon.

Cinnamon Marshmallows

This is a classic French marshmallow: like perfect little pillows of spicy sweet goodness. Makes 32 large or 64 small marshmallows

1 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
4 pkg gelatin

3 cups sugar
1 cup good quality agave syrup
1 cup water
1/4 tsp sea salt

rice starch or potato starch for dusting
vegetable oil

Line two 8 inch or one 9 x 13 inch square pan with tin foil and grease with a mild vegetable oil like almond or grape seed.

In a stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment and a large bowl, pour in the water and mix in the cinnamon. Sprinkle with the gelatine and allow to sit while you prepare the candy syrup.

Attach a candy thermometer to a medium sized pot and add the sugar, syrup, water and salt and stir through. Bring to a boil and cook until the soft ball stage, between 234 and 240 degrees. As the syrup gets hotter, reduce temperature a bit so that you don’t wind up with a hot overflowing mess of burning sugar syrup. Let’s just say that I speak from experience. When making candy, do not attempt to multitask.

When the syrup reaches temperature, start the stand mixer at about speed 6. Start slowly and carefully pouring syrup down the side of the bowl and watch out for splashes. As splash risk decreases, increase the beater speed to 8 and finally 10. Continue beating until mixture is very stiff and sticky when you test it. The longer you beat it, the more air you will incorporate, about 10-20 minutes. The mixture should be larger than when you first started.

Pour mixture into the oiled pans, using an oiled spatula to smooth the surface if necessary and let sit undisturbed on the counter for 24 hours.

Sift starch onto the surface and then carefully turn out onto a board. Carefully peel the foil away, using your fingers to pry the foil off the marshmallow gently and starch this surface. Cut with an oiled knife and starch all exposed surfaces as you cut.

Keeps for weeks in an airtight container.

Dreamy Coconut Marshmallows
Makes 32 large or 64 small marshmallows

1 cup coconut milk (the tinned variety)
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp freshly grated lime zest
4 pkg gelatin

3 cups sugar
1 cup good quality agave syrup
1 cup water
1/4 tsp sea salt

unsweetened shredded coconut and rice starch or potato starch for dusting
vegetable oil

Line two 8 inch or one 9 x 13 inch square pan with tin foil and grease with a mild vegetable oil like almond or grape seed.

In a stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment and a large bowl, pour in the coconut milk and sprinkle with the gelatine. Allow to sit while you prepare the candy syrup.

Attach a candy thermometer to a medium sized pot and add the sugar, syrup, water and salt and stir through. Bring to a boil and cook until the soft ball stage, between 234 and 240 degrees. As the syrup gets hotter, reduce temperature a bit so that you don’t wind up with a hot overflowing mess of burning sugar syrup. Let’s just say that I speak from experience. When making candy, do not attempt to multitask.

When the syrup reaches temperature, start the stand mixer at about speed 6. Start slowly and carefully pouring syrup down the side of the bowl and watch out for splashes. As splash risk decreases, increase the beater speed to 8 and finally 10. Continue beating until mixture is stiff and sticky when you test it, about 10 – 20 minutes. The mixture will not expand as much if you are using coconut milk.

Pour mixture into the oiled pans, using an oiled spatula to smooth the surface if necessary and let sit undisturbed on the counter for 24 hours. Because of the density of the coconut milk, you will notice air bubbles escaping. This recipe does not make as fluffy of a marshmallow and the fat in the coconut milk greatly enhances the sweetness.

Variations: If you want a milder, fluffier marshmallow, use light coconut milk or for a classic recipe (albeit a much milder flavour) use coconut water instead of coconut milk.

Mix 1 cup coconut with 1/4 cup starch and use this mixture to press onto all surfaces as you cut. Sift starch mixture onto the surface and then carefully turn out onto a board. Carefully peel the foil away, using your fingers to pry the foil off the marshmallow gently and starch this surface. Cut with an oiled knife and starch all exposed surfaces as you cut.

Keeps for weeks in an airtight container.

The inspiration for the marshmallows came from the summer edition of Edible Vancouver magazine. If you are looking for a delicious way to use those local strawberries, they have an amazing strawberry marshmallow recipe, which I used as technique guidance for the recipes here.

Fresh Sheet…Strawberries Part II

Refreshing Mint Basil Infused Strawberry Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chunks. That’s a mouthful. A mouthful of richly flavoured layers that will delight your tastebuds.

Can I get a scream?

I scream,
You scream,
We all scream for ice cream: yahhh!


Besides jam, preserves and freezing, a great way to extend the season of fresh local strawberries is to combine them with cream to create a silky and sweet ice cream. Nothing beats churning your own homemade ice cream. You get to choose your favourite flavours; select quality, super fresh ingredients; and be creative in the kitchen. It’s a fun activity the whole family or a bunch of friends can make together. And if you have an old-fashioned ice cream maker, you can even get an arm workout churning simple ingredients into icy-smooth, creamy layers.

I remember ample summers, sitting on our front steps taking turns cranking the handle on our ice cream maker to make a chilly treat. Freshly picked strawberries from our garden were the star in our family-favourite homemade ice cream. Fresh strawberry ice cream remains one of my favourites to this day. I also love mint and dark chocolate ice cream and enjoy the delicious combination of basil and strawberry, so it just seems the next step to combine them into an ice cream. The refreshing mint, perfumed basil, dark chocolate chunks, the luscious strawberries…what’s not to like? 

Refreshing Mint Basil Infused Strawberry Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chunks
aka Scrumptious Summer Treat
Makes about 1 litre.

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
about 30 large mint leaves
about 10 large basil leaves
1-1/2 cups fresh local strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
100 grams good quality dark chocolate, chopped (I like to include a combination of finely chopped and larger chunks) 

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream, 2/3 cup of sugar, and the mint and basil leaves. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, cover and allow fresh herbs to steep for 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to chill completely. I leave the fresh herbs in the cream/milk mixture to allow them to steep overnight. Before churning, pour mixture through a strainer and press the leaves to extract as much liquid and flavour as possible.

Quarter the strawberries. In a saucepan, heat strawberries with 1/4 cup of sugar over medium heat. Cook about 3 to 5 minutes or until it becomes a strawberry syrup mixture. Let cool. Puree a portion of the strawberry mixture and add back to the strawberry syrup; stir gently.

Pour the mint/basil cream mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually takes about 25 to 35 minutes depending on your ice cream maker. In the last few minutes, add the strawberry syrup and chocolate chunks. This softer ice cream is delicious to enjoy right away. If desired, you can also gently fold in the strawberry syrup and chocolate chunk mixtures and freeze in the freezer for a few hours for a firmer ice cream.

Dreaming of Summer Ice Cream Sandwiches

The grey clouds seem to have completely taken over the skies of Vancouver. It’s cloudy, rainy, cold and blah grey. And it’s been like this all week. You might ask – isn’t it always rainy in Vancouver? While our winter can be rainy, our spring and summer are usually bright and sunny. But it’s cold and yucky out. I’ve been wallowing in the lack of blue skies, seawall running, warm wind in my hair bike riding and vitamin D. Mother Nature has graced us with a few gorgeous sunny days, but it seems to only be an amuse bouche and I want more.

To get into the summer spirit, I sprinted to the first summer Trout Lake Farmers Market like all eager locavores ready to indulge in the tastes and flavours of summer. My dreams of farmers’ tables piled high with strawberries, blueberries and juicy peaches were a little far fetched. It’s not truly summer yet. Of course, I wasn’t disappointed in the local goodness available, but I do daydream of the sweet fruit delights that summer brings.

While I patiently wait for the sunshine and busy bees to bring us those delicious local berries and juicy apricots, I daydream of tasty memories from my travels in tropical countries. Slurping the fresh juicy flesh of sweet mangoes and licking creamy smooth coconut ice cream come to mind. To beat the rainy blues, I decided to combine these flavours for a tasty treat that’s bound to feel like summer before the sun’s even here for good! While we don’t grow mangoes here in Canada, they are in season elsewhere, abundantly available and deliciously sweet. Perfect for a pre-summer treat.

Dreaming of Summer Ice Cream Sandwiches
Makes 12 treats.

Mango Coconut Ice Cream
3 cups mango, chopped (about 3-4 mangoes; I prefer the sweet Ataulfo mango, but frozen mango works well too)
½ cup sugar
400mL can coconut milk
2 tbsp lime juice

Prepare your ice cream maker by freezing overnight or longer so it’s frozen solid and ready to make delicious ice cream.
Puree chopped mango with the sugar in a food processor or blender until smooth. Transfer to a large measuring cup or bowl. Stir in coconut milk and lime juice. Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. This usually takes about 25-35 minutes. If the ice cream is still quite soft, place in the freezer for a few hours to firm up. The ice cream can be made a few days ahead if desired. Simply remove the ice cream from the freezer about 15-30 minutes before assembling the sandwiches to allow the ice cream to soften so it’s easy to handle.

Molasses & Ginger Cookies
You’ll need about 24-30 cookies. Feel free to use your own favourite gingersnap cookie recipe. This is one of my favourite gingersnap cookies because it’s a mix of traditional gingersnaps and gingerbread molasses cookies. This recipe is slightly modified from Whitewater Cooks with Friends cookbook. If you don’t have a copy of this cookbook already and love delicious food, it’s a must have. You won’t be disappointed.  
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (regular all-purpose flour is fine too)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger powder
1 tbsp fresh gingerroot, peeled and finely grated
2 tsp candied ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
3 tbsp molasses
3/4 cup large flake oats 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, all gingers, cloves and black pepper. Add melted butter, egg and molasses. Beat well. Add oats and stir just until incorporated.
Drop by tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Using the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, flatten cookies to 1/4 inch thickness.
Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer to cooling rack to cool completely. I like my cookies soft for ice cream sandwiches, so I slightly underbake them. You can easily increase the baking time to 15 minutes if you would like a crisper cookie.

Ice Cream Sandwich Assembly
Match closely sized and shaped cookies into pairs to create your ice cream sandwiches. I usually like to prepare my ice cream sandwiches a few hours before sharing them so the cookies have a little bit of time to soften. You can also prepare and enjoy immediately. Once cookies are paired up, scoop a big scoopful of slightly softened mango coconut ice cream between 2 paired cookies and press lightly together. You can use the side of a knife or back of a spoon to smooth out the sides if you like. If you are preparing them ahead of time, place assembled sandwiches on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and freeze for a couple of hours.

Bring on Summer!