Chocolate Almond Cake with Peppermint Meringue

Flourless Chocolate Cake + Peppermint Meringue

*I’ve partnered with Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker to bring you this bittersweet flourless cake with a torched meringue cap. With only four ingredients in the cake chocolate is the star. I use their 70% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar for a rich, not-too-sweet, flavor that leaves room for the cool sweetness of the billowy peppermint meringue.

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I cradled Ivy into her sling that hugged my chest and positioned her head in just a way that I could inhale it with every breath. We stepped outside of the car having driven an hour out of the city for the purpose of creating the perfect Christmas tree selecting memory. The air bit our noses as we stepped outside. Baron wore black cowboy boots as he did every day and Roman, with his electric blond hair, was always easy to spot as he eagerly ran off without ever looking back. It didn’t take long for the rain to soak through our layers and the picturesque outing was marred with grumbling, tears and mud covered boots. We quickly picked out our tree and Ivy and I left the boys to saw it down while we sought the car for refuge. Every year since we’ve picked up our tree from our local produce stand five minutes from our front door.

In the early years I forced traditions on us like a chore. Each memory was to be perfectly calculated as if their childhood happiness depended on it. I was the director of the Rodriguez Family Perfect Holiday Fun Fest and I sat back in my director’s chair calling cut and action in a way that made sense for the scene but not for my family.

Ivy is very far from her sling carrying days. Now she’s reading books, losing teeth and painting her fingernails. Baron has long outgrown his cowboy boots and Roman’s hair – still radiant – falls over his eyes in just a way that he shifts his head to the side then gives it a quick flick so that he can see. Without directing and carefully crafted scripts we’ve settled into our own traditions. They don’t always happen with great fanfare but we look forward to them just the same.

Flourless Chocolate Cake + Peppermint Meringue Flourless Chocolate Cake + Peppermint Meringue

It starts with the gift of the advent calendar from Gabe’s mom. It’s the one from Trader Joe’s with the brightly colored graphics and paper doors that open to reveal sweet milk chocolate. We get our tree, as I mentioned, close to home with twinkling lights overhead and rows and rows of trees. It’s a pine scented maze that always leads us to just the right tree. At home we’ll make hot chocolate and the kids will hang ornaments. They are the same ones that hung on the Christmas trees that decorated the space where Gabe and I were married. While the kids are in bed I’ll rearrange the tree so not all the ornaments hang in the lower right hand side.

We’ll drive through the streets with houses covered in lights and holiday music blaring over the speakers. My brothers kids will come over for a Christmas tea complete with a cheese ball shaped like a snowman. There will be cinnamon rolls with tangy vanilla bean flecked frosting and we’ll eat clementines until our mouths hurt. There will be peppermint scented cakes and caramel candies that get stuck in our teeth and those little hard candy storybook sets wrapped in cellophane that I always got in my stocking. Moderation will meet us again in January.

Flourless Chocolate Cake + Peppermint Meringue

Our traditions began when I stopped forcing them. They are the simple activities that without my noticing get repeated every year. The temptation to orchestrate the so-called-perfect holiday season still creeps in but each year I get better about knowing my intentions. I ask myself, “Am I doing this because I think I SHOULD or because it fills me with JOY?” If the answer is joy I proceed with a giddy grin and soak up the fluttery excitement of the season. Every year there are things that never get crossed off the to-do list and I vow to start “Christmas-ing” in October but every year it is what it is and in making joy, peace and hope the priority it’s always my favorite time of year.

This cake is bound to be a tradition as each bite brings me immense joy. It’s a dense flourless chocolate cake made with Scharffen Berger’s 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate. The chocolate is bright and almost fruity making the cake softly sweet which leaves room for the meringue laced with peppermint. If you feel like getting real fancy a streak of red food coloring laced through the meringue would look oh so festive. The toasting of the almond meal can be skipped but I find the reward of a deep roasty flavor is well worth the ten minutes in the oven.

Flourless Chocolate Cake + Peppermint Meringue

Chocolate Almond Cake with Peppermint Meringue

Serves 8 – 10

Cake adapted from Joy of Baking

 

Cake:

4 large eggs, separated

1 cup (100 grams) superfine almond meal

3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar, divided

6 ounces (170 grams) Scharffen Berger 70% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped

6 ounces (12 tablespoons) (170 grams) butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon (4 grams) pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) salt

 

Meringue:

3 large egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

For the cake:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Add the almond meal to the sheet pan then toast in the oven for 10 minutes or until lightly golden and fragrant. Set this aside to cool.

Butter an 8-inch springform pan then line the bottom with parchment. Butter the parchment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment begin the beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes on medium high until light in color and tripled in volume.

While the yolks are beating melt together the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pot filled with simmering water. Stir until just melted then remove it from the heat.

Add the whipped egg yolks to the melted chocolate and butter and carefully stir until just combined. Add the almond meal  and vanilla then stir to combine.

Clean the bowl of your stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment begin slowly whipping the egg whites. Once frothy add the salt. Increase the speed to medium and slowly start adding the sugar. When working with egg whites every move is gentle, so we start the machine slowly and add the sugar very gradually. Once all the sugar has been added increase the speed once more then beat until stiff peaks form.

Fold 1/3 of the whipped whites into the chocolate mixture until combined then add the rest until no streaks are showing.

Carefully add this batter to the springform pan then bake for 45 – 50 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should have a few fudgy crumbs. The cake will puff and crack and then settle as it cools.

Set the cake aside and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edge and releasing the pan.

Cool completely before adding the meringue.

 

For the meringue:

Add the egg whites and sugar to a clean bowl of a stand mixer. Carefully place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (or if you are very carefully – directly over a gas flame set on low) and whisk continuously. Periodically check the temperature of the mixture just with your finger. It should have no remaining sugar granules and it should feel quite hot. Immediately set the bowl on the mixer and begin to whip. Continue to whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir in the salt, vanilla and peppermint extract at the end.

Top the cake with the meringue then caramelize the perky peaks with a kitchen torch or pop it under the broiler until the meringue is toasted in parts.

The cake can be made up to three days in advance. Prepare the meringue just before or a few hours before serving.

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Tara’s Everyday Yellow Dal

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I start making dinner around 5. The cupboards are bare, the fridge even more so but there’s enough. It becomes a game to me. I’ll pretend I’m on a game show where the contestants are presented with a bare fridge and told to cook. With a bit of time and ingenuity I wow the judges with a restaurant worthy dish prepared with few ingredients and a bit of pluck. I’m not on tv, I’m in my own kitchen and dinner must be made.

Digging deep into the pantry I brush pass the jars of rice and beans and the crumbled mess of random plastic bags holding odd bits of nuts and dried fruit. I reach for the cracked yellow lentils, a purchase I made months ago at an indian market. Tonight I’ll make dal. I don’t have all of the very few ingredients listed on the recipe but I make do substituting parsley for cilantro and red onion for yellow. I ignore the instruction to use ghee and grab butter instead.

While the yellow beans dance in the simmering water I busy myself elsewhere discarding the contents of several tupperware containers clearing out even more space in the desolate fridge. A turkey caracas becomes stock which I’ll later accidentally leave out overnight having been too resolute in finishing Stranger Things and subsequently too fearful to wander into the dark kitchen alone.

I slowly sip on a glass of wine while pressing and pulling soft balls of dough into flat rounds. They puff and expand on the griddle and soak in the buttery bath I lavish on them. The red onions temper and melt in the not-ghee with cumin seeds and a dried chile while I rewarm Saturday’s rice that I plucked from the fridge like buried treasure.

The food sits idly on the table while I wait not-so-patiently for the dinner time routine to commence. Hands must be washed and the table set. We all finally sit down and find plates in front of us but no utensils or water glasses. I scoff under my breath and wonder how many times have we done this and why is it still never done correctly? When will they learn and when did I become that mom who cares so deeply about missing water glasses.

Dinner has interrupted the kids playtime outside with the neighbors. They come inside still behaving as if they are outside with raised voices, thunderous applause and raucous cheering. I miss the quiet of the stove, the rhythmic stirring and the company of my wine glass. But we’re here now, at the table and the hour I’ve just spent in the kitchen culminates to this moment; the five of us around the table.

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The kids happily eat the food and give me sweet praises for this simple meal. It helps that there is homemade bread to hug the dal and to motivate a second helping. They are kind but they are antsy and our conversation never moves beyond Gabe and I continually barking orders. “Sit down. Ask nicely for what you need. Legs off the table. Quick!! Go get something to clean that up! Yes, you may be excused.”

After many reminders the kids clear the table then scurry off to resume what they were doing before dinner interrupted them.

“Well that was completely unsatisfying.” I say to Gabe as we work together to clean the kitchen. I’m feeling completely dejected. It’s not just that I’m frustrated with the kids and their behavior but also with myself. That I wasn’t able to turn dinner into something more than a lesson in table manners. My slumped shoulders, rolling eyes and constant demands hung heavy on the table.

I want the table to be a place of refuge for all of us. A place we look forward to meeting. Where plates of warm food fuel us and the conversation and connection feeds us. I dream of gathering at the table when our three are adults, we’ll gather less often but the familiarity of the place makes us feel immediately comfortable and we fall into the same rhythm. I don’t want the table to be a place where they have to feel like they have to behave perfectly or act a certain way in order for mom to be pleased.

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We come to the table broken, empty, imperfect, human and we are met there with grace, love and sustenance. The table is the place we revive ourselves so that we can exist in a world away from the table. It’s our fueling station, an anchor in a world that makes us feel like a boat ripped and pulled in towering waves. We crash and slam against the shore, our wood splinters, we’re thrown about but the table is the calm. At least that’s what I want it to be.

Of course at some point they must learn that legs aren’t meant to be on the table and conversations about certain body parts and actions those body parts are capable of should be saved for another time but I am determined to fight harder for connection over compliance and not let their imperfect actions keep us away from the table.

The table is worth fighting for. What happens there won’t ever be perfect as those of us who sit around it aren’t but it can be beautiful and powerful. As I get older I realize that life isn’t about a few momentous occasions such as weddings, the birth of our children or work successes but rather it’s the repeated small things that become traditions and rituals. Those are what we remember and strive to recreate when we’re needing an anchor to steady us. Those rituals become our comfort. The rest is ceremony.

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Tara's Everyday Yellow Dal

Serves 4 to 6

We’ve since made this dish many many times in our house. It’s one of those rare recipes that everyone in the family applauds, it easy to throw together and even easier on the wallet – and this time of year that is such a bonus.

This recipe comes directly from my friend, Tara, and her stunning book, Seven Spoons. I’ve kept the recipe in her words because she writes so beautifully. Her entire book is a stunner – add it to your wish list if you don’t already have it.

As I mentioned in the post I made a few tweaks here and there based on what was available in my pantry (I used butter, red onion, and parsley) so you can trust that this recipe will serve you well even if it’s not followed perfectly.

For the dal:

1 cup (225 g) moong dal (split yellow lentils)

3 cups (710 ml) water

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Medium-grain kosher salt

For the tarka:

2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 small onion, minced

1 or 2 fresh or dried whole red chiles

Leaves picked from a small bunch of cilantro

Fresh lime wedges

To make the dal, in a medium heavy saucepan, cover the dal with water. Swish the lentils around with your hand, then drain the water through a fine-mesh sieve. Return any dal from the sieve to the saucepan and repeat, washing, agitating, and draining, until the water runs absolutely clear. It will probably take 7 to 10 changes of water. Pour the 3 cups (710 ml) of water into the pot to cover the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skim any scum that rises to the surface, then lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Add the turmeric and cook until the dal is quite creamy, 45 to 60 minutes. Stir the dal regularly as it simmers or it can catch at the bottom of the pan and burn. If the dal starts to look dry before the lentils are cooked, add hot water (from the tap is fine). Season well with salt.

About 20 minutes before the dal is done, make the tarka. Melt the ghee over low heat. Fry the cumin seeds for maybe 1 minute, until sizzling and fragrant. Add the onion and chile and cook, stirring, until the onion is very soft and translucent, 15 minutes. When the dal is ready, tip the tarka over the dal, stir to partially combine, then sprinkle the cilantro on top. Serve right away with lime wedges and naan or over rice.

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