Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fiddlehead time

Spring time in Maine means one local specialty is seasonably available: fiddleheads. I never heard of fiddleheads before I moved to Maine, but in the spring people get as excited about them as they are excited about blueberries. Fiddleheads can be found in grocery stores, at the farmers market, at Whole Foods but also in the ‘wild’.

I have been looking for fiddleheads myself in previous years, and found different types of fern but was not sure if they are indeed fiddleheads. So, here are the distinctive features. “It’s an ostrich fern if:

  • • The coils are about an inch in diameter.
  • • A brown papery sheath is peeling off the coils.
  • • A deep “U”-shaped groove is on the inside of the fern stem.
  • • The fern stem is smooth (without fuzz).

So, the fern to the left is something else and fiddleheads are to the right (below). There are different varieties of ferns, but the ostrich and cinnamon fern are the only ones that are edible and safe to eat. Other varieties look similar but may be poisonous.


In Maine, fiddleheads usually emerge in clusters of three to 12 on the banks of rivers, streams and brooks in April and May. They should be harvested when the coils are an inch or two above the ground.

Fiddleheads contain about 22 calories per half cup serving. Fiddleheads also provide a good amount of vitamin C, niacin and potassium. The taste of fiddleheads is unique. “It has been described as grassy and spring-like with a hint of nuttiness, or as a cross between asparagus and young spinach. Some say it has a flavor similar to an artichoke, maybe with a whiff of mushroom. “

They have to be thoroughly cleaned under running water, and steamed in boiling water for at least 10min. After that, they can be sauted in a bit of butter or later served cold within salads, such as mixed salads with greens, cranberries and blue cheese.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Frolicking in the sun

Tiger came by this morning for her second breakfast, frolicking on the driveway afterwards, saying

What a wonderful, sunny day, my favorite Neighbor!”


Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The first Northeastern'er of the year subsided and sunshine is back, the warm temperatures not yet. However, the world turn halfway green --- the trees are mostly still barren but the lawns have turned green. The forsythia is in full bloom. I love it. Combine that with the fact that Maine is currently ranked the “most peaceful state” of the USA (based on crime rate statistics, sorry, Florida and Louisiana). It is kind of true, but also remember half of the year we are frozen solid.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Chocolate glazed Hazelnut Cake (the recipe)

The verdict is in: “Silvia, your best one yet!” Word of mouth travelled fast today at work, and by 2:30pm there was not much left of the hazelnut cake. I had even cut myself 2 slices to save for later, which I rarely do because as usual I bake a mini-cake for myself (but it was without the glaze!).

I agree, this is wonderful cake which I have loved since childhood, but I must give credit solely to my late aunt’s recipe. She is really my mom’s aunt, so more like a grand-aunt to me. She would be 100 years old this year if she would be still alive, but I am sure she still watches closely when I make this cake. I am also sure she was delighted today to see that her recipe has still so many (new) fans and happy bellies. She was a proud, accomplished baker, and her cakes are legendary. 

I must note that the ‘it’ factor of this cake is also due to a uniquely spiced Austrian rum, the Strohrum, which my aunt always used and I use, too. The cake is just not the same without it. Typically, I buy the rum over the internet (e.g. It is not cheap, it is also 180 proof (but there are lower proof versions, which work just as well, it is really the spiced taste of the rum that makes the difference --- anyone who ever skied in the Austrian Alps will have had this rum in the “Grog” that is served in the ski huts). The rum lasts a long time and it is my secret weapon for many baked goods, chocolate mousses, and mulled wine in the winter.

So here it is, my Aunt Jenny’s hazelnut cake recipe.


Aunt Jenny’s Hazelnut Cake

  • 200 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 250 g organic cane sugar
  • 4 very large or 5 large free-range organic eggs, at room temperature
  • a pinch of salt
  • 200 g hazelnut meal (finely ground hazelnuts)
  • 100 g bittersweet dark chocolate, grated or chopped into tiny cubes
  • 2 TB Strohrum (or 3 TB warm milk)
  • 2 TB warm milk
  • 1 ts vanilla extract
  • 250g all-purpose flour
  • 1 ts baking powder

Preheat the oven to 360F. Spray a baking form (bundt cake pan or a large enough rectangular bread loaf pan) with baking spray. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment whisk the butter and the sugar until well-combined and slightly foamy. Add one egg at a time and combine well. Add the pinch of salt, the rum, the vanilla and the milk, and let it be whisked together. Now, add the hazelnut meal, large spoonfuls at a time, and let it combine with the standmixer continuously running. Once all the hazelnut meal is integrated, add the grated chocolate.

Mix the flour with the baking powder, and turn off the standmixer. Then add in a 1/4 of the flour. Turn on the mixer on very slow until the flour is integrated in and turn in the speed to the 2-3 setting. Add in all the flour this way, but avoid over mixing.

Fill the batter into the cake pan, and bake at 360F for ca 55min. Let the cake cool in the cake pan for 15min, then gently flip on a cooling rack, and let cool completely.


Home-made chocolate glaze:

  • 200 gr bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 4 TB unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons warm milk
  • 1 TB Strohrum
  • 1 ts vanilla

Pour the chocolate chips in a glass bowl or a ceramic bowl, and set it over a pot with boiling water on the stove (the bowl should not touch the water!). Stir continuously until the chocolate chips start to melt. Add in the butter, and melt it with the chocolate chips. Once it is all a creamy, lump-free consistency, add in the milk, the rum and the vanilla extract. Once incorporated, take the bowl off the pot, and continue to stir while adding in the confectioners sugar. Keep stirring. Place the cooled cake on a baking rack on top of a baking sheet lined with paper, and using a brush generously “paint” the cake with the chocolate glaze. The glaze will thicken when cooled, and it is great to have a 1/4 of an inch thick glaze on the cake.

Let cool and dry for about 4-5h before serving. The cake actually tastes better with time; at the beginning it is dry and light and slightly crumbly, and after a week it becomes moist with an intense nutty flavor. It should be stored cool and airtight. 


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Younger than springtime

Remember that Rodgers and Hammerstein song from “South Pacific”? (Especially, if it is sung by Matthew Morrison from Glee…) Today I finally had a few hours off work and went for a walk to take in the signs of springtime. Tiger, the neighborhood kitty, took a sunbath in the evening sun, and rolled around when she saw me, showing how much she enjoys the warmth, crocuses in full bloom and some trees just with a whiff of green, like the beard of a 17 year old. A week of warm weather ahead. Can’t wait.


spring_3 spring_2


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sandwich Symphony

It is a working weekend once again, although the weather is wonderful, warm, sunny, spring-like. Alas, life. I rather be on the coast. The sandwich from Harvest Moon was good, though: portabella, spinach, onion, roasted red pepper and hummus. I think every sandwich is better with hummus. My new favorite ingredient. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

In the dead zone

It is cold today, overcast, and rain is predicted. Actually a whole week of rain. This time in the year around Maine I call the ‘dead zone’. The snow is long gone, but there are few signs of any green or blossoms, and it might stay like this for another few weeks. In May, the world suddenly literally explodes into a luscious green, green lawns, trees, and blooming trees. It is a gray, rainy Easter today, and all I want to do is wrap myself in a blanket and bake cupcakes. I hope the Easter bunny is wearing his down coat.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Stout chocolate cake 2.0

After my success with the first version of the stout chocolate cake, I made another one last weekend. Unfortunately, contrary to the first one the second cake came out bland and soggy. I scratched my head --- what had gone wrong? Did I underbake it? For the second cake I had completely followed Heidi’s recipe but for the first one I had improvised and added my own tweaks. So, how to recreate my original version? After some thorough analysis and inspecting the photos for additional clues I was able to recreate the cake.

Changes: I had added a few ingredients to bring out the chocolate flour, such as espresso powder. It is also important to simmer the beer, butter, cacao powder and espresso powder together on very low for about 15min. I do not reduce the mixture to half of the original 2 cups of stout, but with all ingredients, including butter and chocolate, I still have 2 cups of liquid. To make up for the extra liquid, I add an extra 1/2 cup of flour. Also, I only use all-purpose flour since it just rises better than whole wheat in my experience. Instead of 340ml yogurt, I only use 170ml (1 container). I also add molasses and vanilla extract. This time I followed my original recipe, and the cakes were rising well in the oven, and the texture is light, yet moist, again and only lightly sweet but chocolate-ly taste is back. I am always amazed that slight changes can make such huge differences in flavor and texture, when baking. It is an art and a science.

So, here it is, stout chocolate cake, 2.0. Enjoy!


Stout chocolate cake, 2.0


  • 2 cups St. Pete’s cream stout beer, reduced only to 1 1/2 cups of stout
  • 8 tablespoons/1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup Dagoba authentic cocoa powder
  • 1 TB instant Megdalia d’oro espresso powder
  • 2 1/2 cup King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 140 ml Brown Cow Maple cream top yogurt (1 container)
  • 3/4 cup Maine maple syrup (I use the whole foods brand and Stonewall kitchen)
  • 1/2 TB vanilla extract
  • 1/2 TB organic black strap molasses

Chocolate Buttermilk Icing:

  • 3/4 cup / 2.75 oz / 75 g powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup / 25g natural cocoa powder (non-dutched)
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • flaky sea salt, to serve

Preheat oven to 360F, with a rack in the center. Spray a regular sized and a small bundt cake pan with baking spray. If you use another cake pans, just make sure to avoid filling the pan(s) more than 2/3 - 3/4 full. Adjust the baking time as well - baking until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, and the center tests clean when you insert a knife.

In a saucepan simmer the 2 cups of beer down to 1 1/2 cup. Add in the stick of butter cut into pieces, and whisk in the chocolate powder and the espresso powder. Continue simmering on very low for another 15 min. The mixture develops a strong, rich chocolate aroma (make sure to not to scorch it by simmering on too high). Remove from heat, measure that it makes 2 cups, and let cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a standmixer with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs, yogurt, and maple syrup. Mix until nicely blended and uniform in appearance. Gradually add the (cooled) stout mixture, while still mixing. Add the flour mixture, tablespoon by tablespoon/

Transfer the batter to the prepared pans and bake for 45 minutes if using the bundt pan. You really don't want to over bake this cake - err on the slightly moist side if anything. Remove from the oven, and turn out onto a cooling rack after seven minutes.
Once the cake is completely cooled, whisk the icing by combining the powdered sugar, cocoa, and buttermilk. The icing should end up smooth and creamy looking. Run the icing around the top with an offset spatula and let it set.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Week to go

Woke up this morning and sighed: another week ahead. Plans in my head, things to accomplish and get done, Mondays always feel like the whole week’s tasks are on the scale. Mondays feel heavy. But then I remind myself ‘a day at a time’, let’s get the stuff for today done today, deliver a stout cake, ignore the concept of “Monday = a new week”, and let the rest take care of itself. It is just another sunny day. I wish, for you and me, a week ahead like the cake below, doable on the obligations parts, and lots of …. fun. Lots.



Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bundt cake hunt

Yesterday I had planned to do my taxes and some work; then the weather turned out nice and I changed plans: antique hunting for a bundt cake pan along the coast; it was a nice day for a drive. Coastal Maine is full of antique stores and road-side flea markets and with my new search focus I was eager to visit them again. After I filled my car with gas, I waivered on the plans. ”That’s gonna be an expensive bundt cake pan….”. In the end I decided to start with the local antique stores and get some work done, basically stay local for the day. Much to my delight I found almost exactly what I was looking in the second store: a beautiful bundt cake pan in good shape and…..  it was only $7. I was almost giddy with excitement. I also found a pretty old muffin pan in another store. It rounded out the beautiful day.


This morning, I woke up to warm sunshine and the day started out with my first outdoor run for the year. Although, it felt chilly when I started, a sleeveless jog felt perfect on the way back. Naturally, I was curious how a bundt cake would look like made in the new (0ld) pan, and due to the great feedback at work of the ‘manly’ chocolate stout cake I had  brought 2 weeks again, I decided to make another one.

I soaped and scrubbed the pan, and started thinking who might have baked cakes with it before? A happy grandmother for her family? Was it passed down through generations? What had it seen? Which families? Which kitchens? Which cakes were baked? The bundt cake pan could easily be from 1910 and so it could have seen a lot.

It made me smile.


As usual I made a big cake and 2 small ones (for a taste test  before I hand it to the crowds, or not), and the cake turned out great. This time I used a chocolate stout that I picked up at Trader Joes last week and made the original glaze with confectioner’s sugar, cacao and yogurt.

There is not much left of the little cake.

mini_stout stout_cake_finished