The holidays can mean holding your breath- in anticipation, excitement, and even in stress. In the midst of my holiday baking and cooking, I’ve often found myself holding my breath while focusing all too deeply on achieving a perfect outcome. Fortunately, there were a few serendipitous moments to make me take a deep inhale and exhale, ignore perfectionism and attempt to soak in a moment.
The first came as I left Whole Foods, mentally making sure I had purchased all the ingredients on my list. All of a sudden, the scent of fresh pie FILLED the parking lot like never before. Even walking by bakeries and working in bakeries, I’ve never experienced such an overwhelming pie smell. It was as if a giant were baking an apple and pecan pie hybrid somewhere in the night sky above me. I wanted to leap into the air and inhale as many pie breaths as possible! The second moment came when my neighbor was burning wood in his backyard, pot-bellied stove, and it smelled like smoky cedar. Christmas filled the air!
These overwhelming scents reminded me to inhale, to exhale, not to stress so much, and that perfection is just “fear in really good shoes” as Liz Gilbert says. So on this Christmas day, I wish, for you and for me, magical scents of giants’ warm ovens and all the freshest cedar trees distilled into a Christmas fragrance that follows you through the frenzied aspects of the day. I also wish you intense flavors of chocolate and cardamom and a table full of laughs and love!
(or simply, a really great Friday if you don’t celebrate)
About This Recipe: I can’t get enough of beautiful Sift Magazine. This is another recipe adapted from its beautiful pages! The original recipe is for cupcakes, so I included options for cupcakes or a layer cake like mine. You’ll need a food processor to grind pistachios into the flour, making a dense, moist, nutty cake to complement the rich, dark chocolate ganache.
1 cup chopped blanched pistachio nuts
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour (such as this)
2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic raw cane sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons organic unsalted butter (plus more for pan)
zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature (cage-free/organic)
1/2 cup organic sour cream (full fat)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Dark Chocolate Ganache (recipe below)
chopped pistachios for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin tin with papers, or grease a 7-inch springform pan with butter.
Place the pistachio nuts in the bowl of a food processor with half the flour. Process for 1 minute, until the nuts are finely ground.
Whisk the ground nut-and-flour mixture with cardamom, baking powder, and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar, butter and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
With the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each disappears into the batter before adding the next. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
Add the sour cream and vanilla, mixing on low for 2 minutes, until the batter is uniform.
Add the rest of the flour and mix on low until just incorporated. Scrape the bowl one more time to make sure everything is evenly mixed.
Scoop the batter into muffin tin or pour into springform pan.
For cupcakes, bake 20-22 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and place the tin on a rack to cool.
For cake, bake 30-40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool. After 10-15 minutes, carefully remove the springform cake’s side, and allow to cool completely.
While the cake cools, prepare the ganache.
Dark Chocolate Ganache
Recipe from Martha Stewart
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (Guittard’s Extra Dark Chocolate Chips)
1 cup organic heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
Place dark chocolate in a heat-safe bowl.
Bring cream just to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour over chocolate, and add salt.
Let stand for 10 minutes (don’t stir — doing so will cool the ganache too quickly, making it grainy).
Stir with a whisk until smooth and shiny to break up any pieces and emulsify cream and chocolate. Chocolate will often settle on the bottom or sides of the bowl. Scrape the dish with a rubber spatula to incorporate all of it.
Using a small offset spatula (or butter knife), place a large dollop of Dark Chocolate Ganache on each cupcake and smooth over in a circular motion from the center to the outer edges. For decoration, top each cupcake with chopped pistachios.
For a Layer Cake:
Use a bread knife and a lazy susan to cut the cake into two layers horizontally. Place the base layer cake on a serving plate. Top with a dollop of ganache, and use an offset spatula to smooth. Top with the remaining layer of cake. Pour ganache on the top, letting it drip down the sides. Use an offset spatula and the lazy susan to smooth the sides and top. Chill for 10-15 minutes to allow the base layer to harden slightly, then repeat with remaining ganache. Dust with powdered sugar to garnish.