Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Avo Ana's Chocolate Almond Squares

In my family, Sundays have always been a big deal. Nowadays it consists of my parents, siblings, Avo Lina and a few new members of our family, coming together. Without the pressures of work, soccer practices, and day to day life pressing on us, we take the time to enjoy each other's company. Mommy sets the dining room table with our best dishes and prepares a lavish meal, while I have the honor of preparing the desserts!

When we were growing up, Sundays consisted of alternating between our grandparents houses, for Sunday brunch. There are many laughs and memories that stand out from those meals all of them shared around the incredible food my grandmother's worked so hard to prepare.
This time of year, always reminds me of one treat in particular. Avo Ana would prepare the most amazing little treat for me, wrapping it up in parchment paper and stacking it inside the cutest tin - her Quadrades de Chocolate/ Chocolate (Almond) Squares.

The only way I can really describe this treat, is by saying that it's the ideal cross between a cake and a brownie (so basically it's a dream!). It's very thin but incredibly fluffy and the top layer hardens just enough to seal in the almond slivers and add a bit of texture to each bite. I made them for the first time in February with my Mom and it was the first time I had, had them since Avo Ana passed away. It really is incredible how flavors and the scent of baking can bring memories rushing back. Now that the season is upon us again, I thought it was the perfect time to bring out her special recipe. I hope you enjoy this tradition as much as I do!

Avo Ana's Chocolate Almond Squares

2 cups of sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup of butter (* if you'd like to make this recipe pareve/ non-dairy, margarine works just as well!)
1 cup of flour
2 heaping tbspns cocoa
1/2 - 1 cup of almond slivers
Set the oven to 350° F

Beat the butter, sugar and eggs on medium speed until fluffy
In a separate bowl, combine the flour and cocoa powder
Slowly add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, beating well on medium to high speed
Pour the batter onto a cookie sheet and sprinkle with almond slivers
Bake at 350° F for 20-25 minutes (the top layer will be a light color and have a crackled texture while underneath the texture will be moist and have a darker color).
Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes and cut into squares.

Alternatively, you could divide the recipe into two loaf pans (retaining the baking time)

Cut it into 1" strips and you have another version of these delicious bars!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Avo Lina's Chocolate Coconut Cake

In the previous post, I mentioned a dessert that my grandmother, Avo L would often make. Her classic chocolate coconut cake! Recently I had the honor of actually making this cake for her, and after calling my Mom countless times to confirm ingredients and quantities it all came together.

This cake brings back clear memories of running into my grandmother's house after school. Underneath her glass cake dome, this gorgeous chocolate cake would often sit, adorned with silver confectionery balls or flakes of coconut. My grandmother would give me and my siblings a sliver (and then another... and another when my Mom would pick us up for our ride home, wrapped up in a paper towel, perfect to sneak into the car!).

The cake itself is a blend of reduced sugar and coconut. It has a heavy consistency but the flavor compliments the texture perfectly. The flakes of coconut which abound throughout the cake, add a crispy element that in turn contributes to the overall crumbly texture. It isn't your typical light or fluffy cake, however it is the perfect dessert to be presented on its own with tea or coffee after dinner (and of course as a snack throughout the day!).

This cake is a classic in my family. The grown ups always referred to it as the 'coconut cake', however the icing was enough for the kids to dub it the 'chocolate cake'! The icing is tricky. It took my Mom and I a few attempts before we figured out Avo's L's method. To prevent the icing from becoming runny, add the milk a little at a time, constantly stirring without altering the temperature. Use it immediately and do not set it aside. If your result is a little runny in the end, fear not! The icing solidifies after a few minutes.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Avo L's Chocolate Coconut Cake

400 grams of sugar
1 cup of milk
145 grams of butter
2 eggs
250 grams of flour
1 tsp baking powder
125 grams shredded coconut

Prepare a 9" x 13" pan & set the oven to 350° F
In a saucepan set on medium heat, mix half of the sugar (200 grams) with a little bit of milk at a time.
You'll want a thick consistency. If you find that you are achieving this and still have milk remaining, do not worry! I frequently use between half to three quarters of a cup myself.
Allow the sugar to melt, stirring constantly until it becomes brown. This should make your final batter a dark brown color
Remove from heat
Combine remaining sugar, butter, eggs and flour in a separate bowl
Add the sugar & milk mixture to the flour mixture, constantly stirring
Mix the coconut into the batter
Pour the batter into the prepared 9" X 13" pan and bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 35 minutes
Allow cake to cool before icing

Chocolate Glaze

1 cup of sugar
3-4 tbspns milk
3 tbspns cocoa
1-2 tsp butter

Reduce all ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat stirring constantly
Avo L stacks this cake and inserts a layer of the chocolate glaze in between, sprinkled with coconut flakes for added flare!
This is also great made as cupcakes! Fill the cupcake liner to half so that when you ice each one after they've been removed from the oven and cooled, you can fill the remaining space with the chocolate glaze which will solidify. This will leave you with a coconut cake bottom and chocolate coconut top!

The Third Generation Balebusta

A balebusta is a homemaker, someone who not only fills the house with the scent of fresh treats but also with sheer devotion to the smallest of acts. Someone, who despite the tasks of the day, takes the time to whip up a fresh treat to wait beneath the cake dome when the kids get home from school. Someone who always has a dollar in their pocket for when the ice cream truck comes by and then an ear to listen to whatever’s on your mind as you sit on the veranda letting that chocolate vanilla twist drip to the ground. The house may not always be perfectly tidy, but the mixing bowls and recipe books scattered about only solidify the homemakers standing. It isn’t only about keeping a neat and tidy house it’s about keeping a happy home, a cohesive home, one where everyone is welcome despite beliefs, positions or their past. A home where when Sunday at 5:30pm rolls around, all differences, chaos and hassle stay at the door while everyone takes their seat for the weekly family dinner. A balebusta keeps the kitchen, home and family running.

I come from a family of epic women – women who have been given challenges and always come out as an example to the world of how to handle life with courage, grace, and strength. I am the oldest daughter and granddaughter in my family and so incredibly proud to continue on the example set before me, into the third generation. I may not be able to knit like my mom or grandmother and my grace is still in training, but if there’s one thing I've tried my hand at and love it's being in the kitchen.

I am by no means an expert. I’m pretty sure I’ve thrown out and cried over more batches of ruined cakes or cupcakes than had cause to celebrate but it’s not the product that interests me when it comes to baking. When I was in elementary school I used to go to my grandparent’s house every day after school. I’d stand by the counter and watch my grandmother finish up making dinner while eating a piece of cake she had just made and placed under the classic glass dome. Very little compares to the scent of coconut cake with chocolate frosting when you come in the door only to see the condensation on the inside of the dome confirming the cake is still warm and fresh. I’d stand by the counter trying to figure out how she could so easily throw ingredients into a pot and create a meal. Trying to make dinners in my own kitchen now, my awe only continues to grow.

This blog is more than simply stating the number of cups or teaspoons necessary to whip up a classic dessert. It’s also far from being any sort of authority on how to do so expertly. This blog is a testament and celebration of the recipes, traditions and lessons these incredible women have passed down to me. Next to them, I’m still an itsy bitsy balebusta, learning what it takes to make a home and how to take the batches life gives us with a grain of salt.