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Chocolate Orange Cake

Whenever I ask my nephew Dillon what flavor cake he wants, the answer is always the same: CHOCOLATE. This is a kid after my own heart. I love chocolate cake. Especially this recipe for devil's food cake, which is my favorite cake recipe ever

With that said, my favorite recipe does have its' idiosyncrasies -- including a batter that is so thin that one initially thinks that the recipe is flawed (or that one did something wrong). But believe me, this chocolate orange cake makes my devil's food cake look quite ordinary.

This recipe was initially published by Nigella Lawson in 2004 and has surprisingly garnered very little attention on the blogosphere.  The cake is actually a riff on a popular Separdic Passover cake, which uses boiled oranges and ground almonds, but does not contain fat or flour.

Most flourless chocolate cakes get their lift and structure from beaten eggs whites, which are incorporated into the batter at the very end. This step sounds easy enough on paper, but can be tricky to pull off properly -- as over mixing will quickly deflate the batter. Thankfully, this flourless recipe does not require any advanced baking skills. Rather, all one needs to do is boil, puree and mix.

The base of the cake is 2 boiled oranges, which are pureed in a food processor -- skin, pith and all. To this, one adds eggs, almond meal, cocoa and leavening. And that is it.

At this point, I am sure that you must shaking your head in disbelief -- especially over the peel and pith business. I certainly was. But somehow this hot mess pulls itself together and you end up with a dense and moist chocolate cake, which has lovely citrus and almond undertones.  

I served the cake with a dusting of powdered sugar. But it would also be delicious with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. And of course, if you don't like chocolate, just leave the cocoa out of the batter and make the more traditional orange almond cake.   

Whatever you do, I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

The printable recipe is here.


AJ in the Kitchen 2014 Year in Review

As we usher in 2015, here is a quick look back at some of the most popular recipes on my blog in 2014:

1. Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Caviar  2. Lyonaisse Salad  3. Leeks Vinaigrette

4. Parisienne Gnocchi with Spinach, Onions and Poached Eggs  5. Making Autumn Themed Marzipan Fruit and Vegetables  6. Vanilla and Chocolate Icebox Cookies

7. Bourbon Poached Pears  8. Dying Easter Eggs Naturally  9. Roasted Salmon Rosettes with Pistachio-Mint Pesto

One of my goals for the website in 2014 was to improve the quality and composition of my photography. It has definitely been a slow learning curve. But with the help of my Canon EOS Rebel Camera SL1, my new Canon Speedlite 430EX II flash, and a lot of practice, things are heading in the right direction.

Below are some of my favorite floral shots from 2014. Most of the flowers were purchased at the Tribeca Green Market from March through November and were locally raised.

Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope that you will check back often, as the 2015 content evolves. You are always welcome.


Christmas 2014

It seems like it was just Thanksgiving and now it is New Year's Eve! Where did the time go?

The holiday season went quickly to be sure. But along the way, there were lots of fun baking/craft projects, holiday celebrations with family and friends and (of course) good cheer. Here are a few highlights from the season. I hope that you enjoy the pictures.

All the best for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!!  Michelle

Morris County Farms: Black Friday 2014

Eggnog and Chocolate Cupcakes, with Vanilla and Raspberry Buttercream and Gingerbread Toppers

Cookies wrapped for gifting


Gingerbread House

Gingerbread Garland

Dillon's birthday cake, with "dirt" and marzipan/almond pinecones

Barbara, Dillon, and Garrison: Christmas morning

Roxy Cat


Cooking with Schmaltz

Many people think of schmaltz as the Jewish version of bacon fat. But in many ways, it reminds me much more of butter. Judiciously used, bacon fat can add richness to sauteed dishes (like these brussel sprouts). But in my view, it is too heavy to cook or bake with. Schmaltz, on the other hand, is much lighter and has a more subtle taste -- which makes it an ideal fat to use in both traditional and contemporary dishes. Here are a few examples:

Matzo Ball Soup 

Despite the fact that I have lived in NYC for over 25 years, I have never had (nor made) a matzo ball. But after making schmaltz, I was determined to change that. 

For the uninitiated, matzo balls are dumplings which are traditionally served in chicken soup. As the name implies, they are made with matzo meal (as opposed to flour) which makes them an ideal choice for Passover -- when the eating of chametz is strictly forbidden under Jewish law.

Matzo balls typically fall into 2 categories: "floaters" or "sinkers". Floaters are matzo balls which are typically made with some kind of chemical leavening, to produce a light dumpling. Sinkers typically are made without levening and tend to be more dense.  This recipe recipe definitely falls into the former camp.

It is astounishing how much the dumplings expand when cooked. The matzo balls above started out the size of golf balls, and expanded as they were simmered in stock.  After the dumplings are cooked, they can be used immediately or stored for later use. (Just cool them and individually wrap each one in a piece of plastic wrap.) I have also read that they freeze well, but I can't vouch for it! 

Potato Pancakes {Latkes}

Growing up with a Polish grandmother, I am no stranger to delicious potato pancakes. But I have to confess, potato pancakes cooked in schmaltz are in a league of their own. 

I am not sure why, but potatoes cooked in poultry fat crisp up beautifully. They also do not have the unpleasant heavy, after-taste that foods fried in shortening often have.

This recipe differs from my grandmothers, in so far as it uses matzo meal and an egg to bind the pancake batter. Matzo meal? Yes, Matzo meal. Although I was initially skeptical, the batter does not get pasty with the matzo (which can sometimes happen with flour) and it makes the pancakes exceptionally crispy.  And in case you are wondering, the taste of the matzo is indiscernible.

Parisienne Gnocchi with Spinach, Onion and Poached Eggs

Dear readers, you have just stumbled upon the perfect brunch dish.

This recipe is riff on Thomas Keller's herbed gnocchi, which is served at Bouchon Bakery. Not to be confused with Italian gnocchi (which have a potato base), these gnocchi are made from pâte à choux -- the same dough used to make gourgeres, cream puffs and eclairs!

As advertised, the gnocchi are made with schmaltz . But by all means, feel free to substitute butter. Either way, the gnocchi will be amazing.

This recipe makes a lot of gnocchi, which can be made ahead and frozen. They also stay well in the refrigerator for a few days; just be sure to put some schmaltz, butter or oil on them, so that they don't stick together.