Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pistachio Cake and an Anniversary

One year ago today I published my first blog post. I didn't know if I would like blogging, so I wasn't too sure that I would keep it going. I have found, somewhat to my surprise, that I enjoy it quite a lot. I have always been a cook who keeps pretty extensive notes of the things that I cook—how it was, how it could be better, what made it work (or not), what I served it with (and to whom) etc. etc. Blogging has given me a place to put at least some of this stuff. It has also provided great support for my classes. Furthermore, it has encouraged me in my pursuit of excellence—to keep working to make something even better when I might have otherwise been tempted to just let it be. But the thing I have loved about it the most is that it motivates me to stay inspired and to keep trying new things.

Today seems like a good time to thank some of the people who have encouraged me over this past year. Thank you Katrina (Baking and Boys) for all of your tips and pointers, for taking the time to answer all of my questions and for telling me that if I started a blog, you would read it. Thanks also to everyone who reads (dear friends as well as new acquaintances and people I have never met), to those who comment and to those who tell me in person that they love my blog. I'm so pleased that people are reading, enjoying, learning and cooking! And thanks to my good friend (he knows who he is) who harassed me until I actually started writing, insisted I start posting pictures and who threatened me with bodily harm when I recently made some noise about the possibility of quitting (blogging has also turned out to be a lot of work...).

To mark the day, I made a cake (no surprise there). Because tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, it is a green cake. Don't worry, I have not made a cake that is dyed green. It is green because it is loaded with it is a gorgeous, natural green.

One of my all time favorite cakes is the Danish Holiday Almond Cake in Madeleine Kamman's The New Making of a Cook. There are actually many versions of this recipe floating around—I have seen one in Chez Panisse Desserts and another in Star's Desserts—but I think Madeleine's version is the best.

In the sidebar to the recipe, she mentions that there is a pistachio version of this cake in her book Madeleine Kamman's Savoie. I thought I remembered Madeleine saying that that particular book was one of her favorites, so a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy—when a cookbook author tells you which of their books they like the best, you pay attention. But what I really wanted when I bought the book was to taste the pistachio version of the almond cake.

Madeleine uses an unusual mixing method for the pistachio version of the cake that is quite different from the method she uses for the original Danish Holiday Almond cake.  I have used a mixing method for the pistachio version that is closer to what she uses for the original almond cake.

In the almond version of the cake, finely grated almond paste is creamed with the butter and sugar until the whole mixture is very light and fluffy. The pistachio version doesn't use almond paste—it uses half ground almonds and half ground pistachios plus additional sugar to make up for the sugar lost when almond paste is replaced with ground nuts. It made sense to me to cream the nuts into the butter-sugar mixture (as with the almond paste version).  Since nuts don't contain gluten, continued mixing after they have been added won't toughen the cake.  For people who are used to making cakes with ground nuts (or "nut flours") this method will seem a bit strange since nut flours are usually folded in at the end with the regular flour.  Because this early addition of nuts adds bulk to the butter-sugar mixture, I think it helps the eggs emulsify into the creamed butter and sugar mixture more easily (without curdling). This in turn gives the final cake a finer, lighter and more even crumb.

I can't say enough good things about this cake. It is so moist that it is good without any frosting at all. It is also very good when simply garnished with a dollop of whipped cream and some berries. If you love the combination of chocolate and pistachio together (I do), it can be frosted with a dark chocolate ganache.

When I made this cake for my book group a year ago, I served it that way, with a small scoop of honey-orange ice cream alongside. I also think it would be good with a simple vanilla buttercream or some cream cheese frosting.

No matter how you choose to frost or garnish this cake, be warned that it is decadently rich and should be served in small portions. Your guests may look at the tiny sliver that you serve them and wonder what possessed you to give them such a paltry slice. But the smaller slice will encourage them to savor every bite. And when they are finished, they will be well satisfied.

Pistachio Cake

80 g. cake flour
1/8 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
180 g. unsalted butter
225 g. granulated sugar
85 g. blanched almonds, lightly toasted and finely ground (see note)
90 g. shelled pistachios, lightly toasted and finely ground (see note)
1 tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and line with a round of parchment. Butter the parchment. Dust the pan with cake flour and knock out the excess.

Combine the cake flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl and whisk to distribute the salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar continue to beat until fluffy and white again, 2 to 3 minutes on medium-high speed.

Turning the speed down to low, add the vanilla and nut flours. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is again fluffy—another three minutes or so.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating again on medium-high speed after each addition until the batter returns to fluffiness and scraping down the sides before each next addition.

Finally, sift the dry ingredients directly over the batter and fold in. Turn into the prepared pan

and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The cake is done when it is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Unmold immediately onto a plate (not onto a rack—which will leave a permanent imprint on the top of the cake). Invert onto a rack to let the cake cool right side up. Cool completely.

The cake may be frosted or simply dusted with powdered sugar and served plain, with whipped cream or with berries. Serves 12 to 16.

(Recipe adapted from The New Making of a Cook and Madeleine Kamman's Savoie, both by Madeleine Kamman)

Note: You can of course purchase nut flours instead of whole nuts. Use the same weight as you would use of nuts. Just as with the whole nuts, the nut flour may be spread on a baking sheet and lightly toasted. I grind whole nuts to a flour with a mircroplane rotary grater fitted with the fine drum. This grater is of course wonderful for hard cheeses, but I use mine almost exclusively for nuts.


The Happy Whisk said...

Happy Birthday and of course .... Happy cooking.

Katrina said...

Well, I could just cry. With happiness because you DO blog, because I was able to be at your class last night (seriously, a highlight of my trip) and with sadness because I'm a baby and thank you for your kind words as well as I'm bummed I don't get to keep coming to all your classes.
Definitely agree with your friend that you should keep blogging although, if you stopped, I wouldn't inflict bodily harm on you!
So great to see you!
Heading over to my friend's house tonight with a yogurt cake (just like last night (I'll play with all chocolate at home) and a lemon one as well. We will be partying with lots of food. I know Marina is bringing your scones.
I'm making a raspberry coulis to go with both cakes.
Thanks so much, Paige!

Katrina said...

PS--your cake looks yummy. Where do you get shelled and still raw pistachios? I only ever see them in the shell and/or heavily roasted and salted.

Paige said...

Hi Katrina,

I get the pistachios at The Merc! Whole foods may have them...they used to carry them. Sometime right before Christmas, they stopped carrying them (locally, at least) because they had gone way up in price.

It sounds like you have a wonderful evening of food and friends ahead of you. Thanks so much for coming to was great to see you out in the room.

I hope the rest of your vacation is wonderful. And I hope to see you back in KS again!

Kathy - Cooking On the Side said...

Oh my goodness, this cake looks so impressive. Congratulations on 1 year!

Anonymous said...

I am positive that I'm not the only person who would be sad if you quit blogging. I check your site several times a week, and I'm always so happy to find a new post. Sometimes I read it right away, and sometimes I save it for a treat at the end of a long day. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into your blog--and happy first anniversary.

Big Boys Oven said...

just perfect! I love the lime green calour fo this fabulous cake

Gloria - The Ginger Snap Girl said...

Happy 1 year blog-o-versary! Your cake looks wonderful. I just started making nut based cakes last year and love the texture and flavor it brings. Your chocolate frosting looks mouthwatering...I would love the recipe. Frosting is one of those things that I often struggle with, especially the the chocolate variety.

AreYouSureThatsVegan said...

OMG I love the pistachio cake a lot. Thanks for the great post

Paige said...

Thanks to everyone for their congratulations and good wishes!

Gloria--I had planned on frosting the cake with classic ganache (equal weights of chocolate and heavy cream), augmented with a little extra cream so the final set would be softer. Then, when I went to make the ganache, I discovered didn't even have a cup of I sort of winged it (which is why I didn't post the recipe). Here is exactly what I did: I put 216 grams of heavy cream in a small saucepan with 78 grams of unsalted butter (cut into small pieces). I brought this to a simmer, took it off the heat and added a half pound of chopped semi-sweet (Ghirardelli)chocolate. I then let it sit for a minute or two to allow the heat to penetrate the chocolate and whisked it just until it was smooth. (All standard ganache method.) I then stirred in a tablespoon of brandy.

You have to let it set until it reaches a spreading consistency. If you let it sit too long and it gets too firm, just remelt it.

Actually, I was pretty happy with how it turned out. If I were to make it again, I would just use the following ratios:

1 c. Heavy Cream
4 T. Unsalted butter
8 oz. chopped semmi-sweet chocolate
1 T. Brandy

Gloria - The Ginger Snap Girl said...

Sometimes the best creations are born of necessity and what you have in the kitchen. Thanks for sharing the frosting recipe Paige. Sounds great. Love the addition of brandy for some extra complexity. Will be trying this out soon.

Unknown said...

Beautiful cake though I doubt I can find the raw shelled pistachios in my part of the world! Great blog by the way!

Amanda said...

I've heard so many great things about you and your classes from Katrina :) This cake is beautiful, and the step by step photos are great. I agree, blogging is a great way to document things you've changed in a recipe, etc. That's one of the things I use mine for! :)

Megan said...

I love pistachios but dont see alot of recipes using them. This cake is brilliant.
Happy Blogaversary!

Lo said...

Looks delicious -- and how can you lose with pistachio? Perfect for celebrating a well deserved blogiversary!

Deeba PAB said...

I think that is just the most gorgeous cake I've seen in a while...awesome! Happy Blogiversary Paige. What a special way to mark such a special milestone!!

Tarts and Tiaras said...

I stumbled upon your blog not too long ago and I'm so excited! I made this Pistachio cake and it's divine! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

Paige said...

Thanks for letting me know you tried the cake! I love hearing when people try the recipes and techniques I post.

Carolyn said...

Hi, the cake looks amazing!!!! I normally have to go through at least four sessions with the food processor to get my nut flours as fine as yours (for macarons), and sometimes go overboard and get nut butters instead. What drum grater do you use?

Paige said...

Hi Carolyn, Unfortunately, I don't think the one I use is made anymore. I use the "Microplane 39005 Rotary Grater with Coarse and Fine Blades". The one the microplane company is currently making gets pretty poor reviews on Amazon...but I love mine. It's true that it is made of plastic (except for the blades), so you have to be careful not to press too hard on it, but the blades on the drums are "microplane" sharp and very efficient.

Unknown said...

I baked this cake, and I must say it was very delicious. I added coconut flour rather than cake flour, for a gluten free cake. Was still amazing, and allowed me to add toasted coconut to the topping.

Paige said...

Elise, I have never used coconut flour, but I bet it tasted really good. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your gluten free variation!