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Flour Girl: Baked Goods, Good Enough

Geraldine's Chocolate-Date Cake. (Leigh Lambert -- The Washington Post)

Are you traumatized by special occasions that require a sweet ending? Do you always offer to bring a salad to potlucks? If so, Beth Lipton's "You Made That Dessert?" (Globe Pequot Publications, 2009, $15, paperback) could be your salvation.

She has excellent taste (and by that, of course, I mean she shares my taste). Nothing is too fussy, but much to her credit she doesn't succumb to pre-fab shortcuts. This is a book for anyone truly interested in gaining some baking skills and understanding what's going on without getting a degree in chemistry.

She covers a little bit of everything with chapters on cookies and bars, cakes, custards and puddings, pies and fruit desserts, candies, and sauces and frostings. She even includes a final chapter entitled "Emergency Desserts (Don't Panic!)." This is basically cheese and chocolate; a good reminder of what you can do in a pinch.

As I flipped through, I found I was marking more recipes to try than I passed over. I settled on three:

Geraldine's Chocolate-Date Cake. Its wonderful blend of flavors -- coffee, dates and chocolate -- enticed me. The dates act both as a sweetener and a moistener for the cake.

Recipe Included

Warm Gingerbread Pudding Cake seemed right for the season, as we had that cool rain rolling in last week. It's one of those "impossible" cakes with liquid poured over the batter before it goes into the oven. This magically turns into a gooey bottom layer. Let me tell you how good this smells when it bakes and how perfect it is with a dollop of whipped cream. Bliss.

Warm Gingerbread Pudding Cake. (Leigh Lambert -- The Washington Post)

Great Big Coconut Cake. This bundt was not as successful. It looked promising with the layers of flavor provided by coconut milk and flaked coconut. But the amount of leavener killed it for me. The cake rose to a perfect height, but tasted more like a biscuit. Not a bad thing, in truth...just not what I wanted.

I plan to try several other recipes in the book, including Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie, Molten Dark Chocolate Cakes, Silky Chocolate Nutella Mousse and Mocha Cream Pie.

Nowadays, I don't add many new cookbooks to my shelves because there are just so darn many competing for attention -- themed, specialty, holiday, allergy, you name it. Even with precioius little space, this is one I'll make room for.

-- Leigh Lambert

Geraldine's Chocolate-Date Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake (10 servings)

The dates make this cake super-moist, almost pudding-like. It is intensely chocolate.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.

MAKE AHEAD: The cooled cake can be covered with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 4 days.

2 cups pitted dates, cut in half
1 1/4 cups hot strongly brewed coffee
11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (white granulated) sugar
1/4 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking oil spray, then cut a round of parchment paper to fit inside the pan. Spray the surface of the paper, too.

Loosely pack a 2-cup liquid measuring cup with the dates and cover them with the hot coffee. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or an electric hand-held mixer. Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition, then add the vanilla extract. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. The mixture should be uniformly smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

Place a fine-mesh sieve over the bowl with the butter mixture; sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into the butter mixture. Sift the dry ingredients by holding the sieve over the bowl and lightly tapping the side with your fingers. (If there are any lumps of dry ingredients left over after you've finished sifting, rub the back of a spoon over the lumps to press them through the sieve.) Use a flexible spatula to work the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until not quite incorporated.

Pour the dates and coffee into a blender or food processor; puree until as smooth as possible, then add to the bowl of batter. Use the spatula to mix until well combined.
Pour into the prepared pan; sprinkle the top evenly with the chocolate chips. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the edges begin to pull away from the side of the pan and the cake springs back when lightly touched. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle, then gently turn the cake out onto the rack to cool to room temperature.

Per serving: 382 calories, 5 g protein, 58 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 258 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 38 g sugar

Warm Gingerbread Pudding Cake
Makes one 8-inch cake (6 servings)

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

MAKE AHEAD: This cake is best served warm. If you do have leftovers, reheat them on LOW in the microwave.

1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup molasses (do not use extra-strong or blackstrap)
1 1/4 cups boiling water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus 2 tablespoons melted
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking oil spray.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper in a small bowl; mix well, then add the chopped crystallized ginger and stir to coat.

Whisk together the molasses and 1/2 cup boiling water in a separate bowl.
Combine the butter and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or an electric hand-held mixer. Beat on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes until fluffy, then add the egg and beat until incorporated. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed; beat the mixture until uniformly combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture; stir with a flexible spatula just to combine, then add the molasses mixture. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until all the ingredients are just combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the brown sugar evenly over the top.

Whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of the just-boiled water and the 2 tablespoons of melted butter in a separate bowl. Pour the water-butter mixture over the brown sugar and batter in the pan, but do not stir. This liquid layer on top of the batter will look strange and wrong, but it's okay. Carefully place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is cracked on top, set and spongy when lightly touched.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before serving straight from the pan.

Per serving: 335 calories, 4 g protein, 53 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 436 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar

By Leigh Lambert  |  September 17, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Books , Flour Girl , Recipes  | Tags: Flour Girl, Leigh Lambert, cookbooks, recipes  
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