For a cake that boasted deep chocolate flavor and color, we used a combination of Dutch-processed cocoa and melted bittersweet chocolate; the cocoa offered pure, assertive chocolate flavor while the chocolate contributed complexity as well as fat and sugar. Neutral-tasting oil allowed the chocolate flavor to shine. To minimize cleanup, we mixed the wet and dry ingredients directly into the saucepan where we’d melted the chocolate with cocoa and milk. A milk chocolate ganache contrasted nicely with the deeper flavor of the cake. To make the ganache thick, rich, and creamy, we added plenty of softened butter to the warm chocolate-cream mixture, refrigerated the frosting to cool it quickly so that it would spread nicely, and gave it a quick whisk to smooth it out and lighten its texture.
The inspiration for this recipes was Pan Bagnat, the traditional Nice “sandwich,” in which the top of a round loaf would be sliced off and some of the crumb hollowed out, mixed with tuna, olives, anchovies, etc. then spooned back in and the “lid” put on top. Later variations are often made with ham and cheese, and sometimes peppers layered up neatly inside the bread “shell,” but I thought it would be fun to stuff the ingredients between the slices of a whole loaf, and bake it. We often make this for lunch. and everyone loves it warm, but it is also a great picnic showstopper. You can carry it with you, still in its foil, then just open it up, drizzle with oil and let everyone help themselves. Although I have suggested using prosciutto and mozzarella, which melts very well, I always associate pain surprise with Provence, as I like to make it when I am there on holiday with the family, but using local cured ham and cheese instead.
Something magical happened the day I decided to dump a container of fresh ricotta into my standard biscuit recipe. I thought I would get lumps and layers of cheese in the biscuits, but I got something better than that. The ricotta melts into the biscuit in most places and creates a fluffy crumb that I had been trying to achieve for years but never knew the secret to. These are dangerously addictive. Proceed with caution.
There should be a word to describe the way the soft texture of this cake matches the flavour of the vanilla, strawberries and almonds in it. But that word doesn’t exist, so the only way to know how incredibly good this cake tastes is to go into the kitchen and make it. If you come up with a word for it, drop us a line. For the best results, pull all the cake ingredients out of the fridge about an hour before you start. It will make your baked cakes fluffier and tastier.
Cooked strawberries are a controversial subject in some circles. I love them, but I agree that there is a right way to cook them. My method is simple enough: Cook them hard and dark. They are at their best when you choose a high-flavor variety with good color, and you cook them until nearly all the water has escaped and they are concentrated and toothsome. Anything less than that and you have the soft, pallid, slippery fruit situation that gives cooked strawberries a bad name.
This pie came to be after a longtime customer showed up at our kitchen door with two stalks of fresh, local bananas that he had grown in his yard in the Malibu hills. I placed the entire stalks, flowers and all, on a top shelf in the kitchen and waited patiently for the bananas to ripen. Those bananas deserved an over-the-top preparation to honor the weeks of ripening it took for them all to be ready to use. Weighing in at a staggering four pounds, this is not your average late-night-diner banana cream pie. A rich layer of almond cream and baked bananas line the crust, followed by vanilla custard piled high and fresh bananas, and then a topping of whipped cream.
If you have never made a cake before and love chocolate, this is the cake that you should bake. Because it is an easy cake for a beginning baker, I sometimes refer to it as the world’s easiest chocolate cake—but don’t think that it doesn’t deliver in the flavor department! The results are spectacular. Plus, this is the cake that I always make for a crowd, as you can cut it into as many as 48 pieces. In this variation on a Texas sheet cake, I’ve loaded both the cake and the icing with ground cinnamon, giving it a distinctive Tex-Mex flair.
Buttery, light, and not overly sweet, madeleines are dead-easy to make. The only thing that stopped me from making them for years was not owning a madeleine pan. I don’t know why I waited so long. Do yourself a favor, splurge and get two pans so you can crank out more than one batch at a time. We recently shared a special birthday dinner with good friends at Daniel Boulud’s eponymous restaurant in New York City, and at the end of the meal, the waiter brought freshly baked mini madeleines all bundled up for dessert. They were still warm and lightly dusted with confectioners’ sugar, and we gobbled them up in minutes. Madeleines can be made without beaters and are best eaten on the same day as close to the bake as possible.
There are those among you who swear the best damn lemon cake is The Best Damn Lemon Cake. I thought so too…until this recipe was sent to me by my daughter, Toni, who lived on East 62nd Street when she began to make it. When I sent this recipe to my friend Craig Claiborne, he printed it in the New York Times. It became amazingly popular. Devin, the young man who took care of our swimming pool, once even baked this cake on his charcoal grill (he didn’t have an oven). It came out perfectly!