I was invited to attend a tasting and book signing, for Chef Fabio Viviani who’s promoting his new book “Fabio’s Italian Kitchen”, at the culinary school I graduated from. I thought it would be a pleasant evening involving a dish of pasta and an opportunity for him to sell a few books, but I was wrong because it was more than that. For those of you who may not know him, Fabio Viviani was a contestant on Top Chef Season 5 as well as several other Top Chef spin-offs. He’s also the owner of two very successful restaurants in the Los Angeles area, his own cooking show, and of course, a cookbook author.
When Fabio entered the room he was like a whirling dervish, full of energy, his arms constantly moving, so much so that I was unable to get barely one photo of him that wasn’t blurred. When he came to this country in 2005, he spoke not a word of English. He has great command of the language now, but speaks it in an Italian accent so adorable that Sophia Loren would find it endearing. The guy is so funny that if his day job as a successful chef doesn’t work out, he could definitely try his hand at stand up comedy.
But enough of that. Besides his European charm and perfect plates of pasta that he turned out that evening without breaking a sweat, he had a more meaningful message that he shared with us. He spoke at great length about charity and the importance of giving back. He also shared with us a very funny story about being contacted by the First Lady, Michelle Obama to work along side her on one of her causes. I like that he’s not just a guy who talks the talk, but he also walks the walk. He donated all of the proceeds from this evening’s event to Chef Cecilia DeCastro to fund a scholarship for a worthy student to attend her Academy of Culinary Education. Man, what this guy packed into 2 1/2 hours was amazing and certainly explains why he was voted “fan’s favorite” on his season of Top Chef.
Okay, so back to the food. There’s so many mouth-watering recipes in this book accompanied by stunning photographs that I couldn’t even decide where to begin. Since Mama loves to bake, I chose to start with his “Fabio’s Cake” , and I was thrilled with the result. It’s a moist and rustic cake abounding with chunks of apple and and fresh orange zest. Very fresh and very Italian.
Questo e un dolce molto gustoso.
- 2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- zest of 1 orange
- 3 cups apples, peeled, cored and crushed
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a tablespoon of melted butter and a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a 9″ springform pan, then lightly dust with flour and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar until foamy. With the mixer on low, add the rest of the ingredients and mix just until incorporated.
- Pour the batter evenly in the pan and then sprinkle the top lightly with the brown sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden and when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then unmold. When cake is cooled, dust with some powdered sugar.
To crush the apples: peel, core and chop the apples into chunks, and toss with some lemon juice so they won’t discolor. Place the chopped apples in a large ziplock bag and then wallop with a rolling pin til nicely crushed.
It’s 12 o’clock at night, and here I stand in the dark over the kitchen sink eating hunks of this Cinnamon Chocolate Coffee Cake. Suddenly the lights flick on, and my son Michael looks at me in surprise or horror, I’m not sure which one and asks “Mom, what in the world are you doing?” Oh, the shame I felt. Yes, caught in the act of scarfing down light and airy cake laced with nuts, chocolate and cinnamon. Since having this cake at my sister-in-law’s house I’ve been obsessed with it, so much so that my family has considered planning an intervention. Okay, I’ll try and get a hold of myself.
As you can see from the picture below, you need not restrict yourself to baking this in a 10-inch tube pan. If you’re feeling wild and crazy, you might want to try baking this cake in mini loaf pans or in mini bundt pans. The choice is up to you. Either way I think you’re gonna love this cake as much as I do. I just hope that if you do get up in the middle of the night to eat it over the kitchen sink, that no one catches you. It’s very embarrassing. Trust me.
Cinnamon Chocolate Coffee Cake
From My Sister-In-Law “Wanda”
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup walnuts
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips
- Place the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan by melting some butter and using a pastry brush, lightly coat the entire pan and set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add the vanilla extract. Alternately, add the flour mixture and the sour cream mixing on medium-low speed until ingredients are incorporated.
- Spoon 1/2 the mixture into the greased 10-inch tube pan. Sprinkle half the topping mixture over the batter being careful not to touch the edge of the batter. Next, spoon the remaining batter over and sprinkle the remaining topping over the cake.
- Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes or until tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake. Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove from pan to finish cooling on a rack.
- Because most ovens have “hot spots”, I rotate my cakes half-way through baking so that the cake will bake evenly.
- Be careful not to overmix your batter as it will result in a dense cake. Mix on medium-low speed and mix just until all ingredients are incorporated.
- For cakes, butter and eggs should be room temperature. I usually take mine out about 2 hours before baking. However, if you cut your butter into small chunks it will warm up faster. To bring eggs to room temp quicker, place them in a bowl of warm water…that will do the trick.
- For baking purposes, use the best pure vanilla extract you can afford. Avoid using anything with artificial flavors.
It’s practically summertime here in Southern California and there’s beautiful berries everywhere. Everywhere I look from supermarkets, to farmer’s markets and roadside stands all I see are berries. It’s my personal observation that strawberries always seem to get top billing with blueberries and raspberries coming in at a close second. It appears to me that the blackberry just doesn’t get the same notoriety as it’s cohorts. Since today was designated as a baking day, I thought I would show the blackberry a little love and make it the star of this particular baking project.
I found that this cake tasted even better when I added a nice dollop of freshly whipped cream to it and then sprinkled it with a few juicy blackberries. This rustic, homey dessert is best when served warm from the oven.
From Baking by Emma Patmore
- 1 pound blackberries
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a pastry brush and a tablespoon of melted butter, lightly grease a 8″ cake pan or a 9″ pie plate and set aside.
- Place the blackberries and the sugar together in a medium bowl and gently toss until the blackberries are totally covered in the sugar. The berries are very tart (usually) so make sure they’re completely coated.
- Place the coated berries in the pan you set aside. Spread them around so they evenly cover the bottom of the pan.
- Beat the egg and brown sugar together in a large bowl until well combined. Stir in the melted butter and milk. Sift the flour into the egg/butter mixture and blend until the flour is incorporated.
- Blend until you have a smooth batter then spread the batter over the blackberries in the pan.
- Bake for about 25 minutes until the cake is firm and golden around the edges.
- Dust the top of the cake with some powdered sugar and serve warm.
- You can also bake this cake in individual ramekins, just adjust the time accordingly.
As I started to write this post I realized that not everyone would be familiar with polenta, or realize that you could actually use it in a cake. Polenta, a ground cornmeal which can be white or yellow in color, has its origins in Italy. This humble “peasant” food has been a staple of Italian cooking for hundreds, and hundreds of years. And need I remind you that the best food comes from Italy.
This “Mama” is a lover of comfort food and rustic desserts, and that’s exactly what this Polenta Cake is…rustic. It’s simple and straight forward. It’s not overly sweet, and almost gritty in texture, and that’s what I love about it. Imagine if you will that you’re sitting in the hills of Tuscany under an olive tree having a picnic lunch of bread, cheese, olives and wine. This Polenta Cake would be the perfect ending to that meal. I like to top mine with a huge dollop of freshly made whipped cream and my homemade strawberry sauce. As we head into the summer months, I find myself serving this dish quite often at my backyard barbeques’.
Polenta Cake with Citrus
From Women’s Health Magazine
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup applesauce
- 2 cups almond flour
- 3/4 cup fine polenta
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- zest of one whole lemon
- zest of one whole orange
- strawberry sauce and whipped cream garnish
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the oven rack in the center position. Melt some butter, and using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of the pan and then dust the pan with some almond flour. Tap out the excess.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy for about two minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and then the applesauce, and beat just until ingredients are incorporated.
- In another bowl, combine the flour, polenta and baking powder. Add the flour mixture along with the orange and lemon zest to the bowl on the electric mixer and beat on medium-low speed just until ingredients are incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. I used a small off-set spatula to spread it evenly in the pan. Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes until the edges are golden and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- I topped this cake (as you can see) with freshly whipped cream and a fresh strawberry sauce once the cake was completely cooled.
Fresh Strawberry Sauce
- 4 cups strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Place the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice into a medium saucepan.
- Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar.
- Cook for about 5-8 minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved and the berries have softened. Transfer to a bowl and chill. If there’s too much liquid in the mixture, then just spoon some off.
I bet you’ve been thinking all this time, all this lady ever seems to post about is chocolate. And that would be a pretty accurate assumption. I really do have some kind of a sick obsession with it, but every now and then I love to mix it up a bit and do something crazy like add vegetables to my baked goods. I know, it sounds nuts. Oh, and speaking of nuts, this Carrot Zucchini Cake is not only chock full of vegetables, but bursting with chopped nuts and raisins. I would almost go so far as too call this health food if it were not for the cream cheese frosting that is slathered all over the top of the cake.
Today I’m packing this cake and other necessary rations for a little picnic at a location I call my “happy place”. It’s where I like to go when I need to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a one hour hike into the Santa Monica mountains to an area they call The Rock Pool. Once there you become acutely aware of how quiet it is. No cell phones ringing, no traffic sounds, just the chirping of birds and the rustling of the wind through the trees, and sometimes the splashing of a few ducks that have taken up residence there.
Right at the edge of this tranquil pool is a battered, old picnic table where my group and I will enjoy our lunch. I figure I will have worked off at least 125 calories making this trek so I won’t feel guilty enjoying a generous portion of the cake. I’m glad I found my happy place. I would love to hear where your is. Let me know.
Carrot and Zucchini Cake
From Better Homes & Gardens
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots (3 medium)
- 1 cup shredded zucchini
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
- 1/2 cup raisins (I mixed regular & golden together)
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 recipe Citrus-Cream Cheese Frosting
- This cake is made in a 13 x 9 pan, ungreased. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, you will sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, place the carrots, zucchini, brown sugar, eggs, raisins, walnuts, oil, honey and vanilla. Using a spatula, gently mix the ingredients together. Add the carrot mixture to the flour mixture and combine until all the ingredients are incorporated. Spread the batter into your baking pan.
- Bake for 24-26 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack before you frost it.
Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- the zest of one orange
Place these ingredients in a medium sized bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
It’s so embarrassing to admit, but if I were on a desert island and I could only have one meal it would definitely be a cheeseburger and fries, and chocolate cake, of course. I really only said the cheeseburger and fries for health purposes because I would want to eat a protein and vegetable before I indulged in chocolate cake.
This particular Chocolate Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Filling is one of my all time favorites. Chocolate cake all by itself is pretty great, add a creamy, cheesy filling and a sweet white and semi-sweet chocolate glaze and there you have it, perfection. Okay, so it’s just my idea perfection. It’s a little early, but I’m giving you a heads up for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day brunches. I always make this cake for those holiday’s and have not had an unhappy customer yet. I store this cake loosely covered in the fridge, and it actually taste better after being refrigerated.
Chocolate Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
From “Land O Lakes”
Cream Cheese Filling
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
- 1 large egg, room temp
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate Cake Batter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temp
- 1 cup water
- 3 large eggs, room temp
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 ounces white chocolate
- 3 teaspoons shortening
- 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and using a pastry brush and melted butter, generously grease and flour your 12-cup bundt pan. I purchased a silicone bundt pan which I just lightly coat with cooking spray. I love the silicone pans because the cake literally falls out of the pan without leaving those pesky bits of cake behind.
- To make your filling: place all the filling ingredients in a small bowl and beat on low speed until very smooth. Scrape down the bowl periodically to incorporate all the ingredients. Set aside.
- To make the cake batter: place all the cake ingredients in a large bowl, and begin mixing on low speed to incorporate all the ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2-3 minutes until batter is smooth.
- Pour a little over half the batter into your prepared bundt pan. With a large spoon place dollops of the cream cheese filling on top of the batter being careful not to touch the sides of the pan. Then gently pour the remaining batter over.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool your cake in the pan for about 30 minutes. Before you glaze the cake, let it cool completely.
- To make the glaze: take 2 ounces of white chocolate plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of shortening and melt in microwave. Then take 2 ounces of chocolate chips plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of shortening and melt in microwave. Stir melted chocolate until very smooth and drizzling consistency.
- Store cake refrigerated.
You can always melt your chocolate by the double boiler method, but for myself, I prefer to melt it in the microwave. Start with 25 seconds, take it out and stir, putting it back in the microwave and decreasing the amount of seconds each time and stirring after each increment. Remember, chocolate burns very easily, and burnt chocolate makes me very sad.
If you don’t already have one, you might want to invest in a silicone bundt pan. I have metal and teflon coated bundt pans, however no matter how well I greased and floured those pans somehow there was always bits of cake that stuck to the pan. I don’t know about you, but I want a gorgeous cake.
Spring break, what an American classic. Oh, I remember it well. That time of year when college students from all over the U.S. head to warmer climates to blow off a little steam. I suppose blowing off a little steam is actually putting it very mildly. As I remember, it’s Girls Gone Wild and doing everything your mother told you never to do. When I was in college on the east coast, we would head to Ft. Lauderdale for spring break and I still shudder at the thought of the madness and mayhem that would ensue. Ah, good times!
I knew spring break was fast approaching for son #2. I wondered with great apprehension how he planned on spending HIS time off. He called yesterday to tell me he was on his way home for the week, and he planned on using that time to look for a summer job. YES I thought, we just dodged a bullet, a mayhem-free vacation. Before he got off the phone he asked, “oh, and mom could you bake me something, there’s not much real food up here at school”. So here it is, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, another American Classic!
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
From King Arthur Flour
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 20-ounce can pineapple rings in juice, drained
- candied red cherries or maraschino cherries
- 3 tablespoons, chopped pecans
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon coconut extract, optional
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Melt about 1 tablespoon of butter and using a pastry brush, lightly grease a 9″ round cake pan. You want to use a 9” pan because the pineapple rings will fit perfectly in this size pan.
- To make the topping: Melt the butter, and whisk it together with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and ginger. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and evenly smooth it out using a small offset spatula.
- Space the pineapple rings atop the brown sugar mixture. Place a cherry in the center of each ring. If you’re using nuts, press them into the empty spaces.
- To make the cake: I used a hand mixer and a medium-large bowl to make this batter. Beat the butter and sugar until fairly smooth.
- Beat in the egg, then the salt, baking powder, vanilla, and coconut flavor. Be careful not to over-mix the batter or it will result in a tough cake.
- Add the flour alternately with the milk, mixing at medium-low speed and beginning and ending with the flour. Once the last of the flour is added, mix briefly, just until smooth.
- Spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges of the pan with the offset spatula. It may not cover the pineapple entirely; that’s OK.
- Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven, wait 3 minutes, then turn the pan over onto a serving plate. Wait 30 seconds, then lift the pan off. If anything sticks to the pan, just lift it out and place it back on the cake.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
8 to 10 servings.
What it is about chocolate chips..just the mere mention of their name floods my brain with good memories and happy times. They’re so versatile these little morsels, and I love to ponder their endless possibilities. I marvel how their presence enhances cookies, ice cream, cakes, and muffins. It seems that whenever I bake these days, I try to figure out ways to add chocolate chips to it. Why, because I am a believer that when the road of life gets bumpy, chocolate chips will somehow smooth things out. Well, at least for me they do.
Anyway, when I was a kid my mother would go once a week to Greenberg’s Bakery on Haverford Avenue in the Philadelphia area. She would come home with a variety of freshly baked goods in pink boxes neatly tied with baker’s twine by the elderly Russian ladies that worked in the bakery. My favorite was the Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake that never lasted more than a day or two between my brothers and I.
So, today I pay homage to the humble chocolate chip and Greenberg’s Bakery with this version of the Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake.
Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake
- 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 8 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 cups (1-12 ounce bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With a pastry brush and melted butter, grease the bottom and sides of two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans and line with parchment paper greasing the parchment paper also.
- Sift the flour and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. With the mixer on low, stir in the vanilla extract.
- In a large bowl, lightly beat the 8 eggs and then add them to the butter-sugar mixture, mixing until they’re incorporated. With the mixer on low, mix in the flour until it is incorporated. With the mixer on low, add in the chocolate chips.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.
- Bake for about 65 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs.
- Cool cakes in the pans on wire racks for 30 minutes before removing from the pans.
Makes two – 9″ x 5″ loaves
I take my butter out of the refrigerator the night before to get it to room temperature.
Line your loaf pans with buttered parchment paper, allowing the paper to drape over the sides of the pans. When the cakes have cooled for 30 minutes, you’ll be able to easily lift the cakes out of the pan.
You can also use mini chocolate chips (12 ounce bag) for this recipe for a less chocolatey flavor.