Easy As Pie

We live in walking distance of the Florence Pie Bar, which is so quaint and hip and perfect that NPR featured it in their story last month about how hip and full of Hygge pie has become. As adorable as the shop is, with its orange door and seating area the size of a postage stamp, the $5-a-slice price tag keeps our visits infrequent. Lots of people do go; some people hang out there. Just not us.

20171004_194705.jpg

Still, I follow them on Instagram and last February, when they posted a peanut butter pie topped with a crown of fudgy chocolate, I picked up Lilli (who is perfectly capable of walking) snapped her into her car seat, and zoomed over. You know how I am about the holy marriage of chocolate and peanut butter. The slice was amazing, but that’s the one and only time I’ve been.

But with their slices in my feed, I get a challesh, a hankering, for pie pretty regularly. So when I was flipping through What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up, by Today Show regular Elizabeth Heiskell, I was stopped in my tracks by the Peanut Butter-and-Banana Pudding recipe. Inspiration struck: What if I took just the peanut butter mousse part of the recipe, made myself a pie crust with all the leftover Graham crackers I had in the house from Sukkot art projects, and topped it with ganache? I mean, that’s what cooking and baking is all about, right? Inventing, and reinventing and borrowing, and building off a great idea.

20171029_154447.jpg

So that’s exactly what I did. After consulting with Sylvie and my mother who both agreed there needed to be a layer of ganache in between the crust and mousse, to prevent the pie from getting soggy. And it was glorious! Just glorious! Sylvie has been given explicit instructions to serve this at my shiva if I go first (hopefully a very long time from now.) It’s a very rich pie, so a thin slice is all I need to get my fix.

This is a dead simple recipe which takes minutes to put together. You honestly don’t need fancy chocolate for the ganache; I just used the chocolate chips I keep in my freezer. The ratio of heavy cream to chips was 1:1 so it made for a very thick layer – key for me because I do love that combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I have no allegiance to peanut butter brands, but for this recipe don’t use the natural stuff.

20171003_184942.jpg

We still have tons of Graham crackers leftover, and I’m still creating new pies. I made this lemon pie that I’ll share with you soon. That was even easier to make, if you don’t think you’ll get sick of eating pie. I don’t think I will!

Buckeye Pie

First, make your Graham cracker crust:

Ingredients

1 sleeve Graham crackers, broken

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup light brown sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a food processor, pulse the graham cracker into crumbs. Add the melted butter and light brown sugar until crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch glass or metal pie plate. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, just until lightly browned. Let cool.

Make the Peanut Butter Mousse

Ingredients

3 cups creamy peanut butter

8 ounces (1 cup) butter, softened

1 cup (about 4 ounces) powdered sugar

Directions

Beat the peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer on medium high heat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, and slowly add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

Make the Ganache

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup chopped chocolate (chocolate chips are fine by me)

Directions

Bring heavy cream to simmer on stove top, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat

Add chocolate chips to the cream. Let them sit, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

Stir. It will turn velvety. Let cool slightly.

Assemble the Pie

Once your pie crust has cooled down, pour on a thin layer of ganache. Let cool. You should still have ¾ of the ganache left.

Once the ganache has cooled, spread all the peanut butter mousse on top of the chocolate layer, and spread evenly with a spatula.

Pour the remaining ganache on top of the peanut butter mousse.

Place in fridge to firm, about 2 hours.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Sukkah of One’s Own

20171001_165150.jpg

I’m teaching Hebrew School this year at the Reform Temple in town, where we go to Tot Shabbat every month. Last week we had our Open House where I met seven families whose children, ages Pre-K through second grade, will be in my class this year. I somehow convinced the rabbi we could definitely handle making a really easy plum cake recipe – with each family. We ended up making 10!

One of the bonuses to teaching Hebrew School, I mean, on top of making my parents unbelievably proud, is to fulfill my dream of having a sukkah.  (Daycare costs are KILLING us, so I used this extra income to purchase a sukkah kit we found online.) Well, on Sunday we hosted a sukkah building and decorating party for our friends and neighbors. It kind of reminded me of the Christmas tree decorating party I held back in Boston, mostly for my Jewish friends who’d always wanted to decorate a tree.

 

20171001_135150.jpg

Rich filled a cooler with cider, beer and seltzer, and I set up a craft project: build your own sukkah out of cream cheese, graham crackers and pretzel rods. I covered a table in arts and crafts projects: sequins, pre-cut paper for a colorful chain, popsicle sticks, beads, fishing line, pipe cleaners, paint, brushes, stickers. Just a ton of materials, much of which ended up in the grass courtesy of Beatrix.

 

20171001_141820.jpg

I filled a second table with tons of baked goods: blondies, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, apricot bars with an oat and whole wheat crust, one of the plum cakes from last week (defrosted that morning). I also made chive and cheddar scones because Sylvie thought I needed something savory in the mix. I adapted a sweet scone recipe, using 1 Tablespoon of sugar instead of 3, and sprinkled shredded cheese and chives, cut with kitchen shears, when it called for currants to be added.

20171001_134852.jpg

So, yes, that’s a lot. In fact, one of the reasons I didn’t post last week was I was too busy baking! But the recipe I’m most excited to share with you are the salted fudge brownies. I realized as I made them last week I don’t have a brownie recipe in my collection. But I think these are going to be my go-to brownies because they’re wicked easy to make, and quite tasty.

They’re from Desserts, from the editors and writers of Food & Wine which, as you all know, is my favorite of the food magazines. (Moment of silence for Lucky Peach, please.) The first thing I cooked from the book is a recipe that both Rich and I singled out: a chocolate chip cookie for one. It was terrific, took five minutes to put together, and cooked up nicely in my toaster oven. I’ve bookmarked the salted caramel pie, but I need to find the time to cook the sweetened condensed milk. And I’m going to need a few hours to put together the pumpkin pie bars.

One feature about the cookbook I’m really appreciating is that it tells you an estimate of how long a recipe is going to take to put together, bake and also cooling down time. Very helpful as I plan projects with the girls.

These brownies, however, are great because they were so easy to put together. It only took a few minutes, and it’s all done in one pot, so there’s very little to clean up. You start by melting baker’s chocolate and two sticks of butter in a pot. Once everything has melted together, you add the rest of your standard brownie ingredients, stir it up, then put it in a brownie pan that’s been covered in foil and then buttered. Couldn’t be easier. It is worth mentioning that I only had 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate and used chocolate chips for the other ounce, so I cut down the sugar from 2 cups to one. It didn’t seem to make a difference, and I’m sure they’re even better if you follow the recipe.

Salted Fudge Brownies from Desserts by Food and Wine

Ingredients

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. Maldon sea salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-inch square metal cake pan with foil, draping the foil over the edges. Lightly butter the foil.

In a large saucepan, melt the 1 ½ sticks of butter with the unsweetened chocolate over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. Whisking them in 1 at a time until thoroughly incorporated, add the cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the batter. Using a butter knife, swirl the salt into the batter.

Bake the brownies in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes, until the edges are set but the center is still a bit soft and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out coated with a little of the batter. Let the brownies cool at room temperature in the pan for 1 hour, then refrigerate just until firm, about 1 hour. Lift the brownies from the pan and peel off the foil. Cut the brownies into 16 squares and serve at room temperature.

The brownies can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to a month.

 

 

Snowstorms and Squash

 

20170101_115743

Oy, 2016. There were many moments I (we? Most everyone?) would like to forget, although I am happy that this year brought me back to Western Mass. The last week of the year, for me, at least, was really lovely. My girls and I all had off from our schools so we spent the entire week together. When Beatrix wasn’t watching Frozen (“Elsa! Elsa!”) we squeezed in a few adventures.

We explored Great Barrington in the Berkshires (only about an hour from here) in search of the best grilled cheese in the Northeast. We had fun at Forbes Library, whose cookbook and media collection continues to impress me. (More on those in upcoming posts.) We made it to two children’s museums, including a New Year’s Eve Jr. celebration that allowed Bea endless rides on the carousel.

20161231_152314

One of Rich’s brothers gave us a gift card for Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/Home Goods for Christmas, and Lilli was quite pleased to find both dinosaur pasta and a cookie and cupcake decorating kit in the “Home” section. The design kit came in very handy during last week’s snowstorms, again between Frozen screenings.

20161229_171027

That decorating kit also brings us to today’s recipe. Because one cannot decorate cupcakes without frosting, and the only frosting worth making involves cream cheese. Which means I had cream cheese in the house, and that was the one ingredient I was missing to make this twice-baked butternut squash.

I knew it was a keeper as soon as I saw it, and, given its cheesiness, it was a good addition to our Chanukah table. I served it next to potato latkes, a salad of butter lettuce, dates, slivered red onion (soaked in ice cold water to take the snap out), sprinkles of blue cheese and a balsamic brown sugar dressing. Now that I think about it, there was also a lentil stew with rutabaga and kale to start things off.

20161230_170034

Grandparents, don’t panic. She got a haircut soon after this photo was taken.

The recipe actually calls for the squash to first get a steam in the microwave, so it moves the process along a bit quicker than if you did everything in the oven. Ditto with the sweet potatoes, which I know you can do in a microwave, as my old co-worker reminded me every day. I don’t own a 9×13 microwavable dish, so I used a glass pie pan and the squash ends hung over the sides. It still worked. I then transferred the squash halves to a large baking sheet.

This is not an everyday recipe, although it’s not as rich as the stuffed pumpkin that makes me giddy. I hope you’ll give it a shot. It’s actually very simple to make and tastes even better than you think it will.

20161229_183115

Learn from my mistakes. Don’t use parchment paper to bake and broil. It burns after a certain point.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash from “Real Simple” December 2016

Ingredients

1 (3- to 3 ½-pound) butternut squash

¼ cup water

2 (8- to 9-ounce) sweet potatoes

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1½ teaspoons table salt

¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (optional – I skipped it.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut sides down, in a microwave-safe 13- x 9-inch baking dish and add ¼ cup water. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce 3 to 4 times with a knife. Microwave on HIGH 10 minutes. Carefully drain water out of dish. Turn squash halves over, and bake in preheated oven until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes. Scoop flesh from squash, leaving a ¼-inch-thick shell and transfer to a medium bowl; reserve shells and return to baking dish.

Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork several times then microwave them on HIGH until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Peel potatoes and add flesh to bowl with squash along with cream cheese, butter, salt, nutmeg, and pepper; mash with a potato masher or a fork until mostly smooth.

Preheat broiler with oven rack 6 inches from heat. Scoop squash mixture into reserved squash shells and top with cheddar and Parmesan. Broil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chives.

 

There Is No Wrong Answer

Growing up, Passover was the special time of year when my mom let us eat junk food. Looking back, I realize that had a lot to do with the availability of kosher junk food. The stores only stocked it at Passover, which meant it was the one time of year we got to have marshmallows or sugary rainbow fruit jells. Now that I’m a mom, I realize I’ve developed the same sort of habit in my own house. I lay low on rainbow hued candies, but Lilli is enjoying chocolate and Bissli, my favorite of the Israeli junk foods.

Lilli at zoo

As a general rule, I don’t serve matzo at my table; not worth the stomach ache. We do enjoy Tam Tams, and lucky for us, we haven’t had to convince Lilli to eat dried fruit alongside her crackers. She ate seven prunes in a row this weekend, and calls dried apples “apple candy.”

For the past few years I have purchased one box of matzo for the entire holiday, and it’s to fuel my Passover junk food tradition. Matzo crack, or matzo toffee if you’re feeling fancy, is pretty much the best thing you can do to matzo. Even better than shmearing it with Temp Tee whipped cream cheese and topping it with cherry preserves. I swear.

Research has told me that variations of this recipe have been floating around since 1985, which is the year that Marcy Goldman – she of the divine honey cakedeveloped this one. Now, I’ve seen many versions: Salted butter, unsalted butter, margarine. Sprinkled with salt (unnecessary if using salted butter),topped with nuts. White sugar, brown sugar. Let me be clear: IT’S ALL DELICIOUS. My recommendation is to trust your own palate and go with what suits you. There is no wrong answer for this one.

I saw a recipe earlier today that called for 2 cups, or 12 ounces of chocolate chips. Tonight I noticed that the Liebers’ bag of chocolate chips I always use is actually 9 ounces, and it works perfectly. This year I got all fancy and purchased a whisk and an offset spatula. But a fork to stir the sugar and butter into toffee and a butter knife to spread the chocolate works perfectly fine.

Matzo Crack

Ingredients

3 or 4 pieces of matzo, broken into large and small pieces to fit the pan

¾ cup or (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup packed brown sugar (white sugar is fine if that’s what you have)

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 275F.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place matzos in an even layer on the baking sheet. You will need to break the pieces of matzo to fit the pan. I find four pieces is generally how many it takes to fill the entire pan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sugar and immediately reduce the temperature to low. Cook, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved, thickens and begins to bubble.

Drizzle the now-toffee over the matzo and spread it to cover using a butter knife, spatula or offset spatula.

Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake until the toffee gets shiny, which should take about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and evenly sprinkle the entire pan with the chocolate chips. Let stand for five minutes. The heat of the toffee will have begun to melt the chocolate; spread the chips across the matzos with an offset spatula, spatula or butter knife. If you’re using, sprinkle with salt and/or nuts.

Transfer the entire pan of matzo crack to the fridge and chill it for at least two hours.

Break the chilled matzo crack into pieces. Best to keep it stored in the refrigerator, although you probably won’t have leftovers.

You’ll Thank Me

I was so busy kvetching about my CSA last week that I forgot to tell you about our summer vacation. We drove to Montreal. To eat. The trip was inspired by Save the Deli, by David Sax. It’s a book about the slow death of the Jewish deli, and Sax devotes an entire chapter on eating in Montreal. I was sold. So when Lilli’s caretaker had her vacation, we took ours up north.

maison publique

It wasn’t the first time we’d been to Canada – Rich and I actually spent our honeymoon in Halifax. This time we stayed in a lovely AirBnB in Le Petite Laurier, a neighborhood most easily described as Park Slope-esque. I had actually done a bit of research before our trip – more than just reading Eater – and it turns out Montreal is very child-friendly. There’s the Biodome, and there are lots of playgrounds and splash parks, although they could use a little help in the stroller accessibility department. I’m now very impressed with the People with Disabilities Act in our country. Rich was impressed with the hundreds of cyclists that rolled by us every day on cycle tracks and bike boulevards.

mushrooms

And we ate. We ate everything: St. Viateur bagels, smoked meat at Schwartz’s (do the takeout window), poutine at La Banquise. Our first night in town we had an extraordinary meal at small, hip neighborhood place. Even Lilli enjoyed the tomato leaf papardelle with veal ragu. It turned out the place, Maison Publique, is one of the best new restaurants in all of Montreal – the chef was trained by Jamie Oliver. I went back on my own the last night we were in town to try a few other things on the menu, like green beans with anchovies and chile, and the sockeye salmon with peas and chanterelles.

berries

Like we do on all my vacations, we visited the public markets. Our first official day there we met up with friends in Little Italy, and they took us over to Jean-Talon, one of the largest outdoor covered markets in all of North America. I bought a basket of ground cherries as I roamed the stalls, snapping photos of the mushrooms and berries for sale. I enjoyed a balsamic macaron as I drooled over the hundreds of unpasteurized cheeses available, contraband back home. We walked about 10 miles that first day, down from Little Italy into the Mile End and Le Plateau.

peppers

Following our trip up North we drove down to Western Mass for a family bar mitzvah. That Saturday night my parents were kind enough to watch Lilli while Rich and I had a date in Northampton. We went to a new favorite of ours, The Dirty Truth, and ended the night at The Haymarket Café. Haymarket was founded when I was in high school in the 1990s as a bit of an anarchist’s bookstore and coffee shop. You had to go through the back parking lot, behind Main Street. Today Haymarket has a front door, as well as a second floor, and it serves dinner and dessert as well. I distracted myself from feeling very, very old by sharing a piece of lavender blueberry pie and this salted chocolate rye cookie.

I recognized the cookie as soon as I read the sign. It’s from Tartine Book No. 3, a cookbook which came out last year. (It was actually delayed three times; I know this because Sara is a Tartine junkie and was beside herself with every delay.) I had a version of it from Tasting Table in my recipe folder in my email. The cookie is extraordinary, definitely worth going out and buying rye flour at Whole Foods for it. Rich thinks they have a bit of spice to them, like a rye ale, while Mike said they were veering into brownie territory. I’ll tell you that they are a baked cookie with a center that remains soft on the inside. I brought some of these cookies along when Lilli, Rich and I joined Cara, Rosie and Ben for berry picking. Of course, I failed at packing an actual lunch for Lilli, but we did have these amazing cookies.

berry picking

The recipe calls for 1 pound chopped bittersweet chocolate (70%), preferably Valrhona, making it both a chocolatey and expensive dessert. Given the amount of chocolate I needed, I went to Target and bought several bags of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. They worked fine. The four eggs need to be at room temperature, but if you can’t wait, set them in a bowl of warm water. The dough does need some chilling to make it firm enough to scoop. I set the dough back in the fridge in between batches.

The one real change I made to the recipe was changing the muscavado sugar into dark brown sugar, making it a bit more affordable. The recipe says to bake them for between 8 and 10 minutes; in my oven it took 10 minutes to 13 minutes. This is a very good cookie. Please go make it. You’ll thank me.

Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies Adapted from Tartine Book No. 3: A Modern Ancient Classic Whole

Ingredients

2 2/3 cups (1 pound) chopped bittersweet chocolate or (good quality chocolate chips)

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

¾ cup whole-grain dark rye flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon fine salt

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 ½ cups dark brown sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Good quality flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel, for topping

Directions

Place a saucepan filled with 1 inch of water over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Set a heatproof bowl over the simmering water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water, and melt the chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally. Once melted remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the rye flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed, adding the sugar a little bit at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated. Turn the mixer to high and whip until the eggs have nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate-butter mixture and the vanilla. Mix to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, then add in the flour mixture just until combined. At this point the dough will be very soft and loose, which is normal; it will firm up as it chills.

Refrigerate the dough until it is just firm to the touch, about 30 minutes, (The longer you chill the dough it’s harder to scoop.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the fridge and scoop with a rounded tablespoon onto the baking sheets, shaping the balls of dough into rounds and spacing them 2 inches apart. Top each mound of dough with a few flakes of sea salt, pressing gently so it adheres.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies have completely puffed up and have a smooth bottom and rounded top. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let cool slightly (the cookies may flatten a bit), then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. The cookies will keep up to 3 days in an airtight container, although we moved ours into the fridge at that point and enjoyed them over a week.

Good Cookies Make Good Neighbors

Our upstairs neighbors got married this weekend. They’re good neighbors to have and do things like weed the front garden. They also don’t complain about Lilli, ahem, finding her voice, sometimes in the middle of the night.

Their rehearsal dinner, which they graciously invited us to, was the night before the big day, upstairs at their place.  Not wanting to arrive empty-handed, I decided to bake something for the bride and groom. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t think of making these – Mexican wedding cakes – immediately. I mean, the word “wedding” is in the name of the cookie!

Mexican Wedding Cakes

It’s a very simple recipe from Favorite Cookie Recipes by Lou Seibert Pappas. I’ve never mentioned this unassuming little book before, but it has my absolute most favorite cookie recipe – a soft, chewy gingerbread – that has yet to make it onto the blog. I’ll try hard this year to change that. In the meantime, let’s talk about these cookies.

Different cultures around the world have similar cookies. Be it Russian teacakes, polvorones in Spain or snowball cookies, they are all full of butter and nuts, topped with powdered sugar. This particular recipe says you can use hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts. I choose pecans, or, as the Southern bride put it when I presented her the cookies “pea-CAHNS.” It turns out her stepmother is of Mexican descent and had actually requested these cookies as part of the wedding celebration.

For the chopped nuts the recipe called for, I ended up giving whole pecans – purchased at Costco – a whirl in the food processor. There were leftover nuts which I stored in a plastic bag and tossed in the fridge. I’ll probably sprinkle them on top of a salad at some point this week. The dough came together very quickly in the stand mixer. Even though the recipe said to stir in the nuts, I added them using the mixer on a lower speed.

For the roll in confectioner’s sugar, I used a large Tupperware container. I choose it because it had a large, flat bottom and had sides to make it a clean toss. The step that took the longest was the shaping of the cookies into little balls, which really didn’t take very long. The result is a really lovely cookie.

Mexican Wedding Cakes from Favorite Cookie Recipes by Lou Seibert Pappas

Ingredients

½ cup butter, room temperature

¼ cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp. salt

1 cup finely chopped pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts

Powdered sugar for rolling

Directions

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat butter and sugar together until creamy. Mix in vanilla. Add flour and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in nuts. Shape into ½-inch balls. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake in 350F oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and quickly roll hot cookies in powdered sugar. Cool and roll again in sugar.

 

L’Chaim!

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is assigned a numeric value. Aleph is one, bet is two, and so on. All words have values too, based on the sum of their letters. One of the big words is chai, which means life, as in “L’chaim!” My Hebrew name is Chaya, which is derived from it. The two letters that spell that spell chai add up to 18, and so it’s traditional for Jews to give charity and gifts in increments of 18: 36, 54, 72 etc.

I’m telling you all this because today I turned 36. Now, for some that might mean I’m on the back end of my 30’s, only a few years from 40. But I am viewing my birthday as double chai, and I feel pretty good about that.

Riding a panda

It’s not that uncommon for my birthday to fall during Passover, which meant growing up I often didn’t have a proper birthday cake. I have many childhood memories of my mom sticking candles in a watermelon and telling me to make a wish. I honestly don’t know if I ever wished for real cake, because I’m actually a huge watermelon fan. But for a few years, a bakery that only opened during Passover (I guess we’d call it a “pop-up” these days) sold these incredible flourless chocolate brownies and an outstanding flourless chocolate cake. It was so extraordinary and beautiful the shop called it “the Robert Redford cake.” Oh, Hubbell.

I have no watermelon in the house right now, but I did have all the ingredients to make myself a flourless chocolate cake for my birthday. So I did.

As you know, I take Passover pretty seriously, so every year my beleaguered Catholic husband lugs an entire set of pots, pans, utensils and dishes up from the cellar. My Passover kitchen is a work in progress, and every year the same thing happens: I go to cook or bake something and realize that I’m missing a certain piece of kitchen equipment. This year I learned I need to buy a whisk and an offset spatula for next year.

It turns out, though, that I don’t need to buy a cake pan. I just used my go-to, glass-lidded non-stick Passover pan, which has been with me as long as I’ve been cooking on my own. It’s deep enough to cook 2 cups of quinoa, and has a metal handle that can go in the oven (ideal for fritatta making). It’s not quite the Jews wandering in the desert, but making do with only a few kitchen tools does evoke the spirit of the holiday for me.

So, whisk-less, I mixed this simple batter with a fork, poured it into my trusty pan and stuck that into the oven. Because the pan is a little larger than the 8-inch pan the recipe called for, I reduced the baking time from 25 minutes to 20 minutes. Instead of fancy chocolate, I used kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips. There was a half an orange in the fridge leftover from Lilli’s breakfast, so I had Rich zest it. (For some reason, I have a Passover zester but not a whisk. Go figure.) I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover sifter, so I just stirred the cocoa powder with a fork and carried on.

We ate this tonight with dollops of fresh whipped cream, or schlag as my German mother would call it. It now occurs to me that I could have used the hand mixer I used to whip the cream for the batter, but no matter. There’s always next year. L’chaim!

Flourless Chocolate Cake, adapted, ever so slightly, from Gourmet, November 1997

Ingredients

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling (which I did not do)

1 teaspoon fresh orange zest

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line the bottom with a round of buttered wax paper (I used parchment paper).

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate with butter, stirring until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift ½ cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Stir in the orange zest.

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Not necessary step: Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet or whipped cream if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container.)