Don’t hold the mayo

chocolate mayonnaise cake

Every Valentine’s Day needs chocolate, and when I posted the photo of this dessert on my Food Writer Debbie Moose Facebook page, requests came in for the recipe.

It’s so simple, and has an interesting history. Chocolate cake using mayonnaise instead of butter and milk became popular as a cost saver during the Depression, and it was also popular during the rationing period of World War II. It makes a devil’s food-like cake that is so simple, kids can make it. In fact, I demonstrated this recipe for a group of teachers at a teachers’ seminar focusing on WWII.

The only caveat is don’t overbake it to prevent dryness. I added a drizzle of melted bittersweet chocolate to make it even more of a Valentine’s Day treat.

This recipe makes enough to fill a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, but I used an oversized muffin pan to make six individual cakes.  I cooked the remaining batter in a smaller baking dish, dusted the resulting large cake with powdered sugar and gave it to my neighbor, who has two kids and is expecting a third – just to spread the Valentine’s Day love (and get the calories out of my kitchen).

I adapted this from a recipe in “The American Century Cookbook” by Jean Anderson.

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

2 cups flour

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used a super-dark cocoa)

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs

1 2/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup mayonnaise

1 1/3 cups cold coffee or water (coffee adds more flavor)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or equivalent muffin tins, etc., with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a portable electric mixer) combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat on high speed 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the mayonnaise just until blended. With the mixer on low speed, stir in the flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with the coffee or water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Pour into prepared pans and bake 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the pan (the muffins will take less time). Bake just until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; do not overbake. Cool for 15 minutes or so, then remove from the pans and cool completely before frosting, drizzling with melted chocolate or dusting with powdered sugar.

A white chocolate Christmas?

I’ve said for years that white chocolate is not chocolate. Most of it tastes like a bowl of sugar with Crisco mixed in. No flavor at all.

But since I am exploring all things buttermilk, I picked up a bar of Olive and Sinclair’s Salt & Pepper Buttermilk White Chocolate. The artisan chocolate company is based in Nashville, Tenn., so a Southern ingredient like buttermilk was natural for them to use.

The tangy flavor of buttermilk does make this bar less sweet than the usual white chocolate, and the salt and pepper give an unusual bite. While it won’t replace the darkest of dark chocolate in my heart, this is a white chocolate bar for people who don’t like white chocolate but who have open minds.

Find more info on Olive & Sinclair here.

Hot chocolate the Aztec way

Original hot chocolate – the Aztec kind – didn’t come in a sugar- and nondairy creamer-filled packet. It was the hard stuff. Pure, amaze-those-Spanish-invaders chocolate, with some chilies and such. Hot chocolate for real chocolate lovers.

Escazu Chocolates in Raleigh, N.C., besides instituting the fabulous idea of a hot chocolate bar, is serving throwback chocolate drinks. Way thrown back. These beverages contain no milk, just like the originals.

Xochiaya contains chile, jasmine flower and spices. The drink called 1549 Spain is based on the first published in 1644, and contains nuts, star anise and vanilla, among other things. And 1670 Italy goes back to that time in history with lemon, lime and jasmine flavors added to the chocolate. Chilies, cinnamon and cloves flavor 1692 France.

Oh, if you must – the bar also has Escazu’s regular, old hot chocolate with milk and the company’s ground dark chocolate. You can liven those up with chipotle or peanut butter.

The hot chocolate bar is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shop and bar are located at 936 N. Blount St., not far from Seaboard Station.

Food News Roundup

If the SUVs and minivans clogging the streets around my house weren’t a big clue, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) let me know that school is about to start. (I live near an elementary school.) Here it offers advice for making feeding kids easier and less stressful.

When the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer’s Kathleen Purvis and I took a trip to New York in May, she was carrying on about what she termed “cooking anachronisms” in the popular novel “The Help.” She’s still on a tear, and you can read her thoughts here.

More on packing those school lunches is in the Salisbury (N.C) Post, here. Almond butter and jelly? Hmmm.

There’s plenty of heat left in this summer, and if you’re done with the same old banana Popsicles and chocolate ice cream, the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) has tales of local makers of creative frozen sweets. Read more here.

Things have settled down in the Triangle after the Great Quake of ’11 (I heard that a lawn chair got knocked over in North Raleigh). In Charleston, S.C., a microbrewery and bakery are each marking the 125th anniversary of the city’s 1886 earthquake with guess what? Beer and cupcakes. Read more here.

NestMeg finds a sweet way to mark one year of blogging. Yes, it involves chocolate.

Herbs are busting their pots here at the end of the summer. The Detroit Free Press has suggestions for ways to use them here.

Even high-end restaurants face the challenges of gluten-free diners. The San Francisco Chronicle here says here that chef Thomas Keller has created a new gluten-free flour.


3.14 Day

Now that the Heels have pulled it out for the day, I can turn my attention to an important event not related to basketball. Yes, there actually are a few such things. One is Pie Day, which will be Monday. Look at the date, people.

It’s a bad pun, but who cares when it’s an excuse for pie. Some pears are awaiting on my counter, a possible combination with cognac and a spice like cardamom in the future. But for pie today, I turned to “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, N.C. because the stress of pulling for the team during ACC Tournament weekend requires chocolate. Nancie’s recipe for Betty Thomason’s Chocolate Chess Pie is simple and smells rich as it bakes. I’m trying to keep my fingers from it until The Hub gets home, but that admirable goal is becoming more and more difficult to achieve.

Betty Thomason’s Chocolate Chess Pie from “Southern Pies” by Nancie McDermott

Pastry for a 9-inch single-crust pie

1/2 cup butter (I used nondairy margarine, for The Hub)

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten well

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust and crimp the edges. Combine the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the chocolate and butter melt and you can stir them together into a smooth sauce, 5 to 7 minutes Remove from heat, add sugar and stir well. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt, and stir to combine everything evenly and well. Pour the filling into the piecrust and place the pie on the bottom shelf of the oven. Bake until the pie is puffed up, fairly firm and handsomely browned, 35 to 45 minutes. place the pie on a cooling rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

From sweet potatoes to chocolate

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. That’s what everyone talks about for Valentine’s Day. And I have absolutely no problem with that. None. As long as it’s dark chocolate. Send it on over.

White chocolate is not chocolate, so don’t start with me. I believe that you could save yourself the calories and just eat the wrapper the white chocolate came in – it has just as much flavor.

If you’re looking for an appetizer before the chocolate, I made some baked sweet potato fries for lunch today. Baked sweet potatoes will stay moist, so don’t expect the super-crunchy texture of conventional fries. But the spicy sprinkle and dipping sauce add even more flavor. This recipe is from “Fast, Fresh & Green” by Susie Middleton (Chronicle Books, 2010).

Sweet Potato Mini-Fries with Limey Dipping Sauce and Spiced Salt

1 pound unpeeled sweet potatoes

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Spiced Salt: 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon paprika

Limey Dipping Sauce: 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, pinch of kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Line a large rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.

Cut the sweet potatoes crosswise on a slight diagonal into 3/8-inch slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into sticks between 1/4 and 3/8 inch wide. Put the sticks in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. spread the sweet potatoes out in one layer on the baking sheet, making sure to scrape all the oil and salt from the bowl onto them.

Roast for 20 minutes. Using a spatula, flip the sticks over and continue cooking, flipping once or twice more, until the fries are nicely browned, about 10 minutes more.

Make the Limey Dipping Sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Make the Spiced Salt: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Sprinkle some of the Spiced Salt on the fries (be generous), toss well and serve with the dipping sauce.

Serves 3 to 4.

The Beer Run road trip

the flight at lexington avenue brewing

The hub and I had been hearing about Asheville, N.C.’s microbreweries. There are around 10 in downtown and the immediate area, including Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, N.C., which produces all certified organic beers. The mountain city and its environs is considered by some to be the second-best spot for craft brews after Seattle. Beers from the oldest and largest brewery, Highland Brewing, can be found in the Triangle, but others are limited to the western part of the state.

We signed up for a Brews Cruise group tour, but it was a slow week and not enough people signed up to make it go. So we struck out on our own. There were five within walking distance downtown, and we started with Asheville Brewing Company. The flight was Rocket Girl Lager, Stuntman Ale, Escape Artist ESP, Roland ESB and Ninja Porter. Rocket Girl had a lot of flavor for a lager, but my favorites were the ESB and porter, especially since I have a low tolerance for hops. The ESB was fragrant and complex, but the porter really gave me something to contemplate with chocolate, coffee and tobacco flavors. It wasn’t as heavy as some porters, which was good, since we had other brews to quaff.

We walked into Jack of the Wood two minutes after it opened. In my prime, I closed down many an establishment, but it was the first time I’d opened one. We sampled three Green Man brews there: porter, ESB and a cask-conditioned IPA that required hand pumping. One advantage of arriving in mid-afternoon: The very knowledgeable bartender had plenty of time to talk to us. I didn’t think I’d like the IPA (the hops thing), and I didn’t, but it was certainly interesting. The ESB had a floral flavor, and the rich porter would be fun to cook with, which they do at Jack of the Wood.

We pressed on to one of the newer breweries, Lexington Avenue Brewery, where they set a flight of seven beers before us. The hub and I thought all seven were sweeter than others we’d had, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it meant the IPA wasn’t as bitter as most. The white ale had no bitterness at all and was really different in its light flavor. I thought the hefeweizen was a bit too sweet and perfumy; I had trouble detecting the wheat flavor. Others in the flight, American pale ale and Octoberfest, were good. But I guess we must be fans of the dark side, because the dunkelweiss and chocolate stout were most intriguing to me. The stout includes chocolate extract, and had a roasty-toasty flavor. The dunkelweizen had hints of cherry and roasted spice. I could imagine both of those flavoring a devil’s food cake.

We hit the wall right about then, so we didn’t make it to Craggie Brewing or OysterHouse Brewing, which offers a beer brewed using oysters. Shell and all.

Keep up with the mountain beer scene with the Beer Guy in the Asheville Citizen-Times. We will need some time to recover before making another run. We can’t research like we used to.

Big week for sweets

Can you smell the delight of lovers of baked sweets? First, the Krispy-Kreme on Person Street in Raleigh, N.C. reopened June 1, after month-long renovations left seekers of “Hot Doughnuts Now” with the cold comfort of packaged goods.

And today, the doors opened at Scratch Baking in Durham, N.C. The long-desired permanent store at 111 Orange Street gives fans of baker Phoebe Lawless a place to get pies and doughnut muffins between her weekends at area farmers markets. The hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lawless’ pies aren’t your grandma’s pies. The pan-less pies have rustic crusts folded up around exotic fillings, which peek through the center like an open purse tempting a pickpocket. A dark chocolate-sea salt pie I got for a picnic last summer still sticks in the memory.

Food news roundup

An update on Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C. and a story on a farmers market on the campus of Raleigh’s N.C. State University (written by your humble blogger) are in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) today. Find both here. The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer highlights something that was bound to happen eventually: Cooks who cater the Passover Seder. The article is here (also in the N&O).

The Winston-Salem Journal has the tale of a former chef for a drag-racing team who now hosts a show on the Speed Channel called “The Racing Chef.” But no fast food from him – the article includes a recipe for hoisin-glazed pork that sounds good enough to get even Jimmy Johnson to slow down and eat. Catch it here.

I wonder if this doc would make house calls to North Carolina, because I want her to be mine – a Dallas physician started a chocolate business. Read about her in the Dallas Morning News, here.

Food news roundup

A gallery of cupcakes brightens the morning on The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) food page. Someone had the extremely difficult job of tasting and evaluating local ones. I learned the name of my fave: Slow Burn. Grab a fork and head here.

A fish camp is where guppies make seaweed sleeping bags and sing rousing songs (“99 cans of fish food on the wall, 99 cans of fish food…”). Wrong. Find out the real history in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, here.

A coffee cup sculpture will stand at the entrance to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, N.C., which is set to open Feb. 1 near the site of the famous lunch counter sit-ins. Read about it in the Greensboro News & Record, here.

Louisiana farmers are donating rice to Haiti. Read that, along with King Cake information, in the New Orleans Times Picayune, here.

Upscale Dallas restaurants are going down-home by offering haute versions of biscuits and sausage gravy. The Dallas Morning News has the scoop here.

Who cares about the human genome when chocolate is involved? Florida scientists are attempting to crack the code of cacao and the differences in flavor among different varieties. Read about it in the Miami Herald, here.