The non-dudly, downright studly, Chocolate-Bean Cake.

Like many people trying to lose weight, I went through a dudstitution phase. This is a tragic period when you do things like take a perfectly innocent recipe for chocolate poundcake and replace the butter with applesauce, the chocolate with pureed prunes, the sugar with Splenda, the sour cream with nonfat yogurt, the white flour with wheat flour, and the whole eggs with egg whites. Then you eliminate the salt, add a big scoop of wheat bran, and sprinkle the batter with cinnamon and crushed multi-vitamins. The resulting . . . cake . . . has the texture of tripe and could scrub the rust off a cast iron skillet that has been oxidizing in a swamp since 1983.

Chocolate-Bean Cake sideHowever sad this . . . cake . . . is, the truly sad part of dudstitution is the denial. “It tastes just like the real thing!” you say to friends and family gamely trying a piece of your . . . cake. You also mention, somehow thinking that it might help, “It has only zero grams of fat and five grams of fiber per serving!” Kitchen sponges liberally sprinkled with sawdust also have zero grams of fat and five grams of fiber per serving, but your friends and family are too polite to point this out to you.

I’m exaggerating a little, but I admit it: I baked a few kitchen sponges and forced them down with skim milk and lies. When I finally came to my senses I stockpiled butter in the freezer again and stopped torturing what was left of my friends. At least I learned a few things from all my suffering, like that yogurt cheese’s tang makes it an outstanding replacement for some of the cream cheese in citrus cheesecakes, that up to half wheat flour in place of white flour in scones and biscuits doesn’t hurt the flavor, and that yogurt can replace sour cream in almost any recipe. If a healthy substitution doesn’t adversely affect the outcome, why not do it?

Chocolate-Bean Cake topSo when I baked Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate-Chestnut Cake and noticed that pureed canned chestnuts have the same texture as bean puree, I had to do it, I had to make Chocolate-Bean Cake. Not only do beans add fiber, they’re much cheaper than cans of chestnut puree which are not easy to find here. I had to ask my brother to buy some in Chicago, and even he would have failed had he not tracked down a few dusty French cans at Whole Foods.

And frankly, while it’s a fabulous cake, you can’t taste the chestnut. This flourless cake has an airy texture, almost like a souffle. The half pound of chocolate manages to be both rich and light, while the chestnuts add a velvety mouth feel and gentle sweetness that any sweetened bean puree can provide. I chose to use sweetened azuki bean paste because I always have it on hand, it’s cheap, and it’s already sweetened. It made the cake slightly sweeter but worked just as well as chestnut. Next time I’ll experiment with chickpea puree or Asian sweet potatoes (fluffier than orange sweet potatoes). Heck, even a firm batch of mashed potatoes would work, but it won’t be nearly as healthy.

The original recipe is available here at bottom left. In this version I’ve included espresso powder to intensify the chocolate flavor, added cream of tartar for stability, and eliminated the muscovado sugar for simplicity. My mother served the cake at a gathering and reported that people descended on the whipped cream-topped slices of chocolate clouds like starved vultures. The attack was so savage that my mom ended up eating a plate of whipped cream sprinkled with crumbs—all that was left of the poor cake. She felt lucky to get even that.

Adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
Makes one 9- or 10-inch cake

Cream of tartar is optional but will help keep the whites from deflating. If you prefer a denser cake or are using a 9-inch pan, you can omit it. When I lined the pan with parchment I had no problems, but when I tried greasing the pan with shortening and dusting it with cocoa powder, the cake’s top crackled under the knife that I ran round the edge to loosen it (that’s the version pictured). If perfect appearances are important, use parchment paper, otherwise grease and cocoa powder should be adequate. The cake’s lightness keeps it from being very bitter despite the small quantity of sugar. You could easily up the cacao percentage to 85% or more to please a sophisticated chocoholic.

· 400g (1 packet) sweetened smooth red (azuki) bean paste
     OR 430g can unsweetened chestnut puree
· 9 Tablespoons (125g) butter, softened
· 1 Tablespoon dark rum
· 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
· 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
· 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
· 6 large egg yolks
· 9 ounces (250g) bittersweet chocolate, melted but not hot (I used 70%)
· 6 large egg whites
· 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
· 3/8 cup or 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (75g) superfine or regular sugar

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9- or 10-inch springform pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper.

2) In a large bowl, beat butter until soft. Beat in beans or chestnut, flavorings, salt, egg yolks, and chocolate. Set aside.

3) In a separate bowl, beat egg whites at low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar, increase speed, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and beat until whites are glossy, stiff, and slip only slightly in the bowl when bowl is tilted.

4) Carefully fold one-third of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the rest of the whites until mixture is well blended and no streaks remain.

5) Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top of batter. Bake until top looks dry and center springs back when pressed (like a kitchen sponge—but it won’t taste like one, I swear!), about 45 minutes. Top may look crackled or cracked.

6) Cool cake 10 minutes then remove from pan and cool on rack right-side-up. Serve dusted with powdered sugar and/or topped with whipped cream.

Spring, baby.

It’s spring! What better way to commemorate a season of daffodils and violets than with baby pictures?¹ My cousin’s daughter (who is my first cousin once removed, but I’ll refer to her as my niece consistent with Korean genealogy²) recently celebrated her first birthday. Koreans use first birthdays as an excuse to party, eat, and dress up the baby in fancy clothes. Several horrible lies have been sandwiched in among the facts on today’s post. See if you can spot them.

Baby nieceAfter we sang “Happy Birthday,” my niece had to choose from an array of items that would determine her future: a golf club, a stethoscope, a pen, a spool of thread, a golf ball (my cousin likes golf), a book, and cash in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, and $100. She picked the stethoscope and tried to eat it. I believe that one day my niece will be CEO of a company specializing in edible organic novelty medical equipment so realistic and so delicious that it will put the current edible jewelry and candy ring companies to shame. She picked up a pen too, so she may also write a bestselling memoir about her edible organic novelty medical equipment career. Keep an eye out for it in 50 years or so.

Duk labelAssorted duk

Duk is similar to Japanese mochi and comes in a staggering number of varieties: squishy or stiff, topped or stuffed, layered or rolled, savory or sweet, fried or steamed, poured or kneaded, leavened or ballooned. Duk houses, not bakeries, can be found all over Korea. My mother contributed four heavy trays of assorted duk from a popular duk house in Chicago. The green duk is my favorite type of duk and roughly translates into “wind duk,” so named because the duks are sealed with air trapped inside in addition to a sweet sesame seed stuffing. When you bite into wind duk it pops. The experience is less exciting than it sounds but is nonetheless slightly more exciting than eating food that doesn’t pop. The pink and white duk is a filled duk with a lotus design and more sweet sesame seed filling. While it tastes the same as wind duk, it doesn’t pop.

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After the worst Midwestern winter I’ve seen since the 1970s when I was only a wee oblivious non-cooking tot, spring has finally come. Many people like to put flowers in bottom-heavy glass vases to celebrate. Like so.

Lilies in vase

I prefer rolling pins. They don’t need water, they never wilt, and when was the last time flowers ever made you a pie? Rolling pin storage has caused me misery until now. This system beats storing them on top of my dusty refrigerator where the trolls and spiders live. It will do until I win the lottery and have enough wall space to hang them out of the way next to the solid gold pins that I’m sure I’ll buy for my sexy new personal chef, Raoul.

Rolling pins

I am, perhaps, prouder of this idea than I should be. Back to spring cleaning. I’ll be sure to let you know if I find something else to store vertically instead of horizontally.