Ladyfingers and a Charlotte Malakoff Cake

While everyone was stocking up on toilet paper and wipes, I bought the essentials: unsalted butter (freezes well), champagne and sparkling wine (these are difficult times), organic sugar, and lots of chocolate. Can someone please explain to me why people were hoarding toilet paper for an impending respiratory disease? I understand lockdown but do people really use that much toilet paper? And wipes. All of a sudden everyone is buying wipes. Did people use wipes before this and I’m just now finding this out? I don’t want to know.

Anyhow.

I read cookbooks for fun. Well, I used to. As of late I’ve been working too much and traveling too much and this quarantine has made that very clear to me. I was aware of it before but in denial. And too busy to think about it. So the other day, I watched Julie and Julia and have been reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking more frequently. I had pages marked off for recipes I want to make. So I was going through and came across the Charlotte Malakoff cake, an almond cream cake in a mold of liquor-soaked ladyfingers. I had a package of ladyfingers that my brother and sister-in-law had got me at Christmastime and what better time than to use them?

I thought I had read the recipe all the way through and was prepared to enjoy the cake after dinner. Until I got to the last step, which read, “refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. The butter must be chilled firm, so the dessert will not collapse when unmolded.”

So I would be having the cake with my morning tea. No problem. No dessert tonight.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from Julia Child, et al’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, which I did not have and did not care to procure, so I topped it with Meyer Lemon Preserve that I have plenty of.

Ingredients:

Mold:

  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 24 lady fingers

The almond cream:

  • 1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup organge liqueur
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/3 cups ground almond
  • 2 cups whipping cream, chilled

Line the bottom of an unbuttered mold with a round of unbuttered wax paper. The recipe recommends a 2-quart cylindrical mold, 4 inches high and 7 inches in diameter, which I did not have so I used a deep springform mold that I did. It worked fine but I had a lot of filling leftover, which I froze and will report back in the future on its defrostability.

Pour orange liqueur and water into a soup plate. Dip the ladyfingers, one by one, and drain on a rack. They are actually pretty absorbent so don’t rush it. Unless you like not-so-boozy and not-so-soaked ladyfingers, in which case go quickly. Line the bottom of the mold and then the sides with the soaked ladyfingers. You will likely need to cut the ladyfingers in half or in some shape to cover the inside of the mold. Reserve the remaining ladyfingers (you will put those in halfway after you have stuffed the cake).

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in the orange liqueur and the almond extract; continue beating for several minutes until they are fully incorporated and the sugar is dissolved. Beat in the ground almonds.

In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until it’s almost whipped. Mrs. Child, et al describe this as “the beater, when drawn across the top of the cream, leaves light traces.” Fold the cream into the butter/almond mixture.

Pour half of the filling into the prepared mold. Arrange the remaining soaked ladyfingers and cover with the rest of the filling. Cover with a piece of wax-paper and fit a plate on top with a weight on top. I used a jar of jam in my refrigerator.

Refrigerate for six hours or overnight. The step that left me dessertless.

When you’re ready to serve the cake, remove from the refrigerator, take off the weight and the plate; leave the wax paper in place while you gently unmold your cake. You will want two plates, your serving platter and one for flipping the cake. Basically you will flip it over twice. You want the side of the cake that has the ladyfingers on the bottom. So flip the cake onto the spare plate, waxpaper side down, and then take the mold off (gently) and then again flip, this time mold-less onto the serving platter. Remove the wax paper and decorate with fresh fruit or, in my case, Meyer lemon preserves.

Enjoy!

My perfectly imperfect Charlotte Malakoff cake

This cake is really rich and probably shouldn’t be consumed by one person alone. I shared some with my aunt, my neighbor, and my colleague and friend who lives in my neighborhood and has her son staying with her ever since he got the boot from the dorms at his university.

Shelter-in-place, wash your hands, keep your distance, and bake

Greetings, dear readers.

It has been a long time since I have written and I wanted to get my blog going again now that a lot of us are going to be spending more time at home…presumably doing productive and soul-filling things like cleaning out your junk drawer and reading my blog. 🙂

Social media jokes and toilet paper hysteria aside, how is everyone? I would love to see people take this opportunity to slow down and connect with their loved ones, near or far…whether that be e-mailing or writing letters, sharing book recommendations or simultaneously watching movies with friends and family.

Speaking of movies. I watched the movie Julie & Julia the other night. It’s a movie based on Julie Powell’s blog and then book about her experience cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child, et al’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. It was a fun and sweet movie. And inspired me to cook more.

Tuesday I made a chocolate stout cake since my sister-in-law had never had it and it’s one of “my” recipes. Not that I own it or came up with it but it’s one I make often and friend’s ask for. See this old post for the recipe if you’re interested.

Yesterday I made Ă®le flottante (floating isle) from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Anyhow, it’s one of my favorite desserts and I used to always have it at Fifi’s in Pacific Grove for my birthday. It’s too bad Fifi’s closed. The recipe itself is an island of merengue floating in crème anglaise a sweet “pouring custard.” It is typically served with almond slivers and a caramel sauce drizzled over.

Me + Ă®le flottante at Fifi’s for my birthday in 2015

Anyhow, my Ă®le flottante was nothing like what I had at Fifi’s but it was edible. As edible as meringue, custard, and caramel can be. So actually pretty yummy, just lots of room for improvement.

île flottante

I’m keeping this short for now but I’ll be posting more regularly to keep in touch with you all, my loves. Feel free to post comments or e-mail me privately if you want

Lunch at Sur Burger

Ack. It appears that I have let “busy-ness” plague me like so many in our society. A friend messaged me the other day to have lunch and so we met up at Sur Burger on Alvarado. He commented that I hadn’t written on my blog in some time so here I am.

This life is crazy and beautiful. We get so many things thrown at us that we get no formal training on how to deal with. I guess busy-ness is one of those things. We all have our ways of coping: making schedules, exercising, ensuring we get enough sleep, etc. But sometimes those habits are less than healthy, maybe we lose sleep to accommodate the busy schedule and try to accomplish more in the day. Maybe we drop the exercise on account of being tired from losing sleep or to try to accomplish more in the day. I guess this is me reminding myself to focus on the healthy habits and not the less than healthy habits. To remind myself that no matter what happens, it will all get accomplished and it will all turn out OK in the end.

My friend suggested we order a bottle of champagne…we had lots to celebrate: life, friendship, living in California, a day ending in “y.” So we ordered a bottle of bubbly and a couple of burgers (we were at a burger joint, after all) and I thought this is so California. A little known fact is that the name “California” originates from the Spanish conquistadors after “califia” a mythical island paradise in Las Serges de Esplandian by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, a Spanish romance written c. 1510. But also California is a land of abundance with a Mediterranean climate. With that abundance, people–inventive, motivated, life-loving people–have learned how to refine and perfect so much of the natural abundance and resources. Take for example, agriculture (and gastronomy) and viticulture. California has such lovely food and wine.

Anyhow, I’m not trying to get too philosophical here other than to say champagne and burgers felt like a very “California” lunch to me. Champagne is reminiscent of “high-class” culture, if you will, and burgers are fast food. Put together, and eaten slowly, you get the perfect Californian meal.

Something unique about Sur Burger is that they have a “condiment bar.” You can fill up on pickles, cole slaw, and different dips for your fries and sauces for your burger. The menu offers “chicken and waffles,” which I was going to say is a California food on account of the popularity of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, but upon further research, I have found that the dish is a bit older than Roscoe’s. There are multiple theories about its origin but one posits that in the early 1800s hotels and resorts outside of Philadelphia served waffles and fried catfish but over time the catfish became any other meat due to catfish’s limited availability. By the end of the nineteenth century, the dish was a symbol of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. How cool!

Anyhow, I had a lovely lunch of bubble and burgers, spent good time with a dear friend, and was reminded that I need to write on my blog more often. I hope you have enjoyed my stream of consciousness and that you can take a minute to remind yourself to do something you love that maybe you haven’t done in a while. Or reach out to a friend for lunch.

sweet potato fries, burgers, & bubbles

Ode to a chocolate croissant

Sometimes you just need a chocolate croissant from Pavel’s. When the world feels so ephemeral—I’m thinking of the fire of Notre Dame in Paris, not to make light of the situation—you need to devour a croissant in its lovely entirety. Or when someone lets you down or acts without integrity you have none other but to turn to Pavel’s for a buttery, dark chocolaty croissant. 

It was Tuesday and I was hungry for lunch. I was in PG running errands and popped into Pavel’s to get a sandwich. Side note, have you ever had their sandwiches? They are amazing. But they were out of sandwiches so I thought, this is God’s way of telling me I should have a chocolate croissant for lunch. To remind me of the beauty of each moment and reinstill my faith in humanity.

I got the chocolate croissant and suddenly there was a skip in my step. I didn’t eat it, of course, the consumption of a Pavel’s chocolate croissant is ritualistic in my book and must be done seated and without distraction. So I carried it, as if I were carrying a treasure, as I ran around PG taking care of my to do list. I smiled when I delicately deposited it on the backseat of the car to drive back to work, knowing the time was getting closer to enjoy my treat. And as I drove down Lighthouse, the fragrance of the chocolate croissant, a sweet, buttery smell permeated the warm car. I sang along with the radio in glee.

I got to work and parked. With great care I took the white paper bag that housed the chocolate croissant from the backseat and carried it as if it were on a platter. The bag was now grease-stained and wonderful. I usually walk with purpose but this time I was on a mission and I pounded the pavement to my office. Every step was bringing me closer to my indulgence. Once in my office I closed the door and smelled the chocolate croissant. It smelled so sweet. Its weight bent it in my fingers as I photographed it for you, my faithful readers. I set it on my desk and sat down in front of it. As always, I ripped the small nub off of one end and peered inside. This one was particularly chocolatey. Because of the imperfect nature of artisan baking sometimes some croissants have more chocolate than others. The ganache was beautiful and dark next to the white and fluffy internal dough of the croissant. The outside is brown and crunchy. I took the first bite and time stopped. My mouth watered and I closed my eyes to be present with my not-so-petit croissant.

I sat back in my chair and chewed slowly before contemplating the croissant and the beauty of life and slowly eating the whole thing.

perfection

Laguna San Ignacio, Baja, Mexico

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Hola de Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California, Mexico. I am fortunate enough to have fun-loving, adventurous friends. I guess it’s true what they say, birds of a feather flock together. But anyhow, some friends of mine asked if I would be interested and available to join them in flying down to Baja California in their little Cessnas. I checked my work calendar and managed my schedule such that I could take some time off to fly to Mexico and camp on the beach.

The friend of my friends—Dave—has been flying down to this one little beach in Baja for about 30 years. He has a deal worked out with the guys who run the fishing and camping village on the Sea of Cortez where he leaves his RV and flies back a couple times a year to camp, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors. He often invites anyone who is willing and able to fly down because it’s pretty remote but does have a landing strip. I was fortunate enough to get invited down and…you know me…I’ll seize any opportunity for adventure.

It was my first time in a small plane and let me tell you, I could get used to this! We flew from Monterey to San Diego where we fueled up and had lunch and continued on to San Felipe, an official port of entry for us to clear Mexican customs. But no true adventure is complete without a hiccup or two and we were told we couldn’t make it where we were going before dark. The FAA gentleman told us to relax, we would have to spend the night in San Felipe. He called a cab—his dad—who picked us all up and took us to a hotel in town and the next morning he picked us up again, brought us to the airport and we were able to fly to our destination of Punta San Francisquito where we buzzed the beach and found Dave and his 88-year-old mother and some of his friends waiting for us. I just learned that “buzzing” in airplane speak is flying low to get someone to see you. So fun!

One day of this whirlwind adventure was slotted for whale watching. So we loaded up the three little planes with the twelve of us and flew to San Ignacio so we could get into boats and head out on the lagoon towards the Pacific Ocean to see the grey whales before they migrate north. It was such a magical experience, being in a small boat close to so many whales. And the calves are so curious, they would come up to the boat and nudge it and let us touch them.

After a lovely and turbulent boat ride we stepped into the restaurant for lunch and based on all the shells we passed on the drive in, I knew I was to order scallops, grilled and served with garlic. With of course, piping hot, paper thin tortillas and a killer margarita. It was just the perfect thing, making my own little tacos with the scallops on the hot tortillas and drinking the cold margarita in good company.

I have to say, this is a beautiful life we live and I urge you to seize any opportunity that comes your way. Or make adventure right here in PG…grab a friend—or take yourself!—and head to Peppers for Mexican food if this article has got you craving Mexican food. Or, did you know the new Poppy Hall on Lighthouse offers $1 oysters on Monday evenings? Along with a cava (Spanish sparkling wine) special. Regardless, there is no shortage for adventure opportunities in our little PG. It’s a matter of making magic.

scallops and garlic, rice, and my margarita

San Diego

Carpe diem. Seize the day. 

Greetings from sunny San Diego! I’m on another work trip to San Diego and back in my old stomping grounds. (I went to university at UCSD.) Being so close to the border means San Diego has amazing Mexican food so naturally, my colleague and I found a new Mexican place to try every day.

The first day we were on our way to work in Coronado and my colleague had her GPS navigating us. I know they are supposed to be helpful but the automated voice drives me crazy. We missed an exit on the freeway and Gidget—as my colleague calls her—was attempting to re-route us. Well in doing so, we drove by a hole in the wall joint with a line out the door and down the street. “Lyla…what’s that? We need to go there.” We took note of the place but didn’t catch the name and kept driving. We did, after all, have work to get to. After we had finished our meetings for the day, we asked one of the people we were meeting with where we should go for Mexican food. We were hoping he would direct us back to this really popular place. He did not. So, the next day, we decided to find it ourselves, googling “hole in the wall Mexican place” plus the street it was on.

Lyla turned the phone around to show me, “this is it!” she said. “Petra & Nati Las Cuatro Milpas” read the sign on the photo in Google with the same green awning and line out the door we had seen the day prior. On our one-hour lunch break, we drove straight to Petra & Nati Las Cuatro Milpas and couldn’t find parking on the first go around. So, we drove around the block the other way and wouldn’t you know, someone pulled out immediately in front of the restaurant just as we drove up.

A woman sat on a blue checkered blanked and made beaded bracelets and sold colorful things: wallets, headbands, etc. And the line was—as we anticipated—out the door and down the street. When it got to be our turn we decided to split a bunch of things so that we could each try more things. This is my favorite route when eating at someplace new. The menu was on one of those marquee boards where you can replace the black lettering in the white lined board. The whole menu fit on one of those boards. We ordered a pork tamal, the burrito—“you choose whatever you think is best,” and two chicken tacos. They were frying the rolled tacos right there and were just barely keeping up with making the tortillas. A huge caldron of soup simmered on a stove. The food smelled amazing and the seating area was all family style, the tables donning light blue checkered tablecloths.

Our food—plus two bottles of water—came to $12 and some change and we found seats at a long table with a couple who looked like they came here often. We split up everything evenly and went to town, generously heaping the deep and oily red salsa they had given us on top of everything. The food was fantastic and greasy. The tortilla that the burrito was wrapped in was unlike any tortilla I have ever had before. Normally tortillas—to my knowledge—are made with flour and water (or corn flour and water). No, this one was different. It tasted to me like the flour had been kneaded with lard. It was soft in a way that only grease gets soft. Buttery.

The tacos were perfect, the chicken was boiled and it was reminiscent of chicken soup…so naturally comforting. And the tamale. Again, it felt like the pork grease had been used to make the masa (the dough of the outside of the tamal). Everything was flavorful and sitting in the warm, small place with the food cooking so close to us made the experience all the better. They say it’s a good sign if there are a lot of people in a restaurant. Who wants to eat at an empty place…that must mean the food isn’t good, right? Well following that logic, this place exceeded our expectations and all those people standing in line…both days…knew what they were doing. And I guess something good came from the annoying-voiced GPS.

Burrito with cilantro, tacos, a tamal, and the hot sauce in the background

Stammtisch German Restaurant

“The true enjoyments must be spontaneous and compulsive and look to no remoter end.”

–C.S. Lewis

We are incredibly lucky to live where we live. For many reasons but one because we don’t have to travel far to find good food. One such gem in our area is Stammtisch German Restaurant in Seaside.

I picked up my friend Maryann who lives in Seaside the other day in search of Mexican food for lunch. As we drove down Fremont, yacking away, she asked if I felt like having German food. I know German cuisine is not anywhere near Mexican cuisine but I am always open to spontaneity. “I’ve always wanted to go there!” I said. So, we wove our way back from the end of Fremont to Echo Ave. and found Stammtisch.

We walked in and were greeted by Erwin, dressed in traditional Austrian embroidered white shirt and a vest. He seated us and asked if we would like to have a beer. We both said no thank you but looked at one another. “Come on,” he said with a smile in his charming Austrian accent. “OK, fine,” we both said. The table where we were seated was in the middle of the main dining room, next to the pot of the umbrella plant that is growing perfectly out of control around the room with one branch supported by yellow yarn on the ceiling. I commented on the beautiful plant and Erwin told me about once a month he wipes the leaves down with a mixture of water and beer, just like his mother taught him. “That way it’s always drunk!” he proclaimed.

Two slices of rye bread along with butter appeared in a gold-rimmed black basket lined with a napkin and then two steins of German pilsner beer from the tap. Next, we were each brought a bowl of the daily soup, cream of asparagus. We chatted with Erwin, who was very hospitable and charming, and we found out is married to the chef and owner, Claudia who is from Berlin. We ordered our lunch, Maryann, the special of the day—the cabbage stew with slow-cooked pork on top—and me, the currywurst.

The décor and vibe felt so German. The wooden tables and chairs, the wall clocks, and the Underberg: the iconic German herbal digestif. Traditional German music played in the background and it was raining outside. When our main dish was served, Claudia came out and we introduced ourselves. She gave me a stiff handshake and welcomed us. The food was presented so beautifully and we immediately dug in. Claudia’s goal is to serve traditional German food, old-fashioned home cooking. “I have achieved my goal if someone says this is how my mom or grandma cooked,” she told me. Now I don’t have a German mother or grandmother whose cooking I can compare to but I do know that even for me, a non-German, it was comfort food and I certainly felt comfortable.

After the meal—which we each took half home for the next day—we ordered two desserts to share, the lemon dessert and the apple crumble along with two cups of strong German coffee. The desserts were delicious and with the rain pitter-pattering on the roof, I sat back drinking my coffee contemplating my happy, full belly and how content I was with our spontaneous decision. I encourage you to check out Stammtisch, spontaneously—if you find yourself in Seaside, or if not…plan a trip. 

Cream of asparagus soup
Currywurst, potatoes, and sauerkraut
Apple crisp and coffee

Porta Bella, Carmel

This past Friday night I went out to dinner at Porta Bella in Carmel with my friend Father Dominic and our deacon friend John. We sat in their quaint, heated back patio that is painted Tuscan clay red and has plants creeping on the walls. One of the co-owners of the restaurant, Faisal, who is also a friend of Father Dominic’s joined us.

One thing I always do when I go out to eat—after looking over the menu and picking one or two things that sound good—is ask the waitress what her favorite item on the menu is. The response is one of two things: without skipping a beat she tells me her favorite item or she says, “that’s a tough one!” and lists a few items she likes or are popular among diners. If what she recommends lines up with what I was looking at, I definitely know what I’m ordering. If not, well it depends on if it was her favorite item in which case I’ll consider ordering it. This time I had the luxury of asking one of the restaurant owners. One of his three favorites, the Lamb Ossobuco, was one of the items I was considering so I knew I’d be having that for dinner.

But of course, it was Friday night and Father Dominic and John, like myself, are epicures so we started with soup and appetizers. I had the roasted corn and crab bisque and it was spectacular: rich, warm, and creamy on a cold rainy night. I appreciate a slow meal and this was just that. We talked and caught up on life and for those of us who were not already friends, we got to know each other a little more. Next, we shared the skewered grilled jumbo prawns served with a lemon aioli, the lobster ravioli, and the beef tenderloin carpaccio. I love beef carpaccio—a raw dish of thinly sliced meat typically served with lemon, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and truffle oil. Porta Bella’s also adds arugula and capers and they’re perfect accompaniments to the raw meat. Interestingly enough, the dish was invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice for countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo when he heard that her doctors had recommended she eat raw meat. The name—carpaccio—comes from the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio whose work is characterized by red and white tones, reminiscent of raw meat.

The main course, the Lamb Ossobuco, was served with a potato gratin and vegetables while the lamb itself was cooked with red wine and white raisins. The meat was spectacularly tender and the flavors were perfect. We enjoyed a local cabernet with the meal and it was the perfect complement.

As the evening and meal went on, more people joined or replaced others and our table was buzzing with people and lively conversation; as the plates were cleared, a backgammon board appeared and a game was started. You see Faisal comes from a big family and network of restaurateurs in Carmel and as some got off work they would come to check out Porta Bella…seeing the owner seated for a change inspired people to come chat, pull up a chair, and join us. And even more so after learning that we had a priest at the table.

The discussion grew philosophical and Father Dominic was questioned on issues of morality which he answered in stride…as a Catholic priest, this is what he does for a living. It became a regular occurrence for someone seated at the table to apologize to him after saying something off-colored. Which brings me back to my initial point, “how you do anything is how you do everything.” I don’t believe that we ought to alter our behavior or our self in the presence of a Catholic priest or anyone for that matter. Sure, there is discretion and professional behavior but who we are ought to be who we are always. I find the idea of behavior-altering more troublesome than the off-colored comment, in other words, I appreciate integrity of the self. If I say something and feel I must apologize for it, maybe I oughtn’t have said it. Don’t get me wrong, I have said my fair share of things that I shouldn’t have said and will probably do so many times over in my life but, in an effort to grow and constantly improve myself I like to remind myself that how I do anything is how I do everything, to be intentional with each little thing because the culmination of all of those little things is me and my character. So here’s to being true to oneself when nobody is looking or even in the highest profile of company.

roasted corn and crab bisque
skewered grilled jumbo prawns with lemon aioli

Chocolate Stout Cake for a friend’s birthday

This past weekend was my dear friend Shandy’s birthday. The week prior she had asked me if I would make her birthday cake. It has become a tradition that I make this chocolate stout cake for a couple friends’ birthdays, including Shandy, and she swears it’s her favorite cake in the world. A week later her husband also sent me a text asking if I would make her favorite cake. What an honor because I simply have to follow a recipe and it can mean so much to a friend.

I first discovered this recipe in Gourmet magazine when I was in college. I was captivated by the photo of the big slice of chocolate cake sitting alongside a chilly glass of stout. Being in college and just beginning my relationship with beer—my relationship with chocolate has been lifelong—my curiosity was piqued. I was living in Del Mar at the time and working at a gourmet chocolate shop where we carried—and paired to chocolate—several beers by the local Stone Brewery. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore and expand my understand of chocolate and beer pairings. I lived in what my roommate and I called the beach shack, it was one block from the beach, we never locked the door and the house always seemed to be buzzing with people, the only two constants being my roommate Diana and myself. Our other semi-permanent roommate Kate was a Biochemistry post-doc at UCSD and we transformed the back of the house into a crash pad for post-docs, surfers, friends, etc. I often cooked big pots of curry or baked something and left it out for whoever was around to eat. I made this cake regularly and we always had beer in the fridge to go along. It seemed to be the perfect post-surf or post-run snack for us twenty-somethings who could never get enough to eat and always had room for a cold beer.

A word of warning, this cake is heavy so it is not for the faint of eater or heart. Also, the original recipe suggested you eat it alongside a stout beer. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will become the favorite of someone in your life’s.

Chocolate Stout Cake

  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp. sugar (for 2 separate things)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 14 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup stout, I use Boatswain chocolate stout from Trader Joes
  • 2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled to room temperature

Frosting

  • 1 lb bittersweet chocolate, I use Trader Joe’s 70% pound plus chocolate
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder, optional

Heat oven to 350ËšF. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate.

Butter two round nine-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, butter and flour the parchment paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a standup mixer beat the butter and 1 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy and pale yellow, about two minutes. Add yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lukewarm chocolate and mix until well-incorporated. Next add the coffee and stout and mix until incorporated. Beat in flour mixture in two additions until it is just incorporated.

Using clean, dry beaters, in a separate bowl beat the egg whites and remaining three tablespoons of sugar until they form stiff peaks. Fold one-third of the whites into the cake to lighten it. Then fold the remaining egg whites in in two additions. Pour batter distributing evenly in the two cake pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 20 minutes, then invert on a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.

For frosting:

Chop the chocolate and place in a medium, heatproof bowl. Set aside. In a saucepan over low heat, heat the whipping cream with the instant espresso, if you so choose. Bring the cream to a simmer stirring occasionally. Once it’s reached a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let it sit for two minutes then whisk until all of the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Chill until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about two hours. But not much longer because otherwise you can’t spread it.

I use all of the frosting to stuff and frost the cake. Serve with coffee or stout or a coffee stout and enjoy!

Red’s Donuts, Monterey

As you ramble on through life, Brother,
Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut,
And not upon the hole.

–Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin 

Walking into Red’s Donuts on Alvarado Street is like taking a stroll down memory lane. The donut shop that has stood in the same spot since March 15, 1950 looks like it hasn’t changed one bit, perhaps added a few decorations to the walls and updated the cash register. That’s it. The shop was started by Herman O’Donnell in 1950 as Angel Food Doughnuts and changed names to Red’s in 1957 as that was Herman’s nickname on account of his red hair.

The idea to write about them was inspired last week when I was volunteering at the AT&T Pro-Am. The Pro-Am gets donuts for their volunteers from Red’s and has for years. This year the Pro-Am got 200 dozen donuts…that’s a lot of donuts! Actually, one of my most avid-readers and a professional donut enthusiast himself had recommended I write about Red’s a few weeks back and it finally all came together.

After indulging in several donuts at the Pro-Am — chocolate old fashioneds are my favorite — I decided to visit the shop on Alvarado Street. I had never been inside despite growing up here and now living here as an adult for the past seven years. The place was happy and vibrant with clown paintings on the walls, photos of former president’s, and the family-owners and almost every stool at the counterwas filled. I waited to be attended to and asked Evelyn, a seasoned Red’s employee of 26 years and counting, if I could ask her a few questions. She was busy, it was before 9 am on a weekday, but she said she would make time for me.

I found a stool and ordered a donut and a cup of coffee. There is something wonderful about coffee and donuts. And chocolate old fashioned donuts…what an invention of pure magic. When business quieted down a bit Evelyn and Ollie—who has been there for six months—both answered my questions. While we were talking, George, a regular, came in and said hi to everyone. They knew his order and in between chatting with me, got it for him without his having to ask. A young musician, Steve, who just moved back to the area from LA told me he has eaten donuts all over the country and nothing compares to Red’s. The customers chimed in the impromptu interview. Stacey told me she had been bringing her daughter to Red’s since she was small enough to sit on the counter. “Now she can’t come because she’s in high school,” she laughed a guilty laugh.

Red’s has another location in Seaside where they make the donuts. The Red’s donut operation is 24/7; they begin making the donuts at 4pm and work all night for the deliveries. Evelyn estimated that they deliver to 35-40 establishments on the peninsula and make about 500 dozen donuts a day. She told me the recipe is the original recipe, “nothing has changed.” The Seaside location, being open all night, gets their clientele at all hours of the morning, some coming in off the graveyard shift at 4am.

Red’s serves 33 different kinds of donuts and rolls and 11 special donuts (certain days only), and of course, a fresh pot of coffee is always on. They even serve milk for those who prefer their donuts with a cold cup of milk. Simple, delicious pleasure. Specials Monday and Tuesday on boxes of a dozen. With one location in Seaside and one on Alvarado Street in Monterey.

Evelyn knows most of her customers by name and has their orders committed to memory. She is friendly and personable and that’s what makes Red’s unique with a genuine hometown feeling. She told me that she had moved to the area in 1964 when her father was sent to Fort Ord. “He was a drill sergeant,” she smiled, “with the Smokey the Bear hat and the whole nine yards.”

On my way out, an older gentleman came in. I heard him say to Evelyn, “I’m changing it up today.”

Without skipping a beat, she told him, “You can’t do that, Ken,” and they both erupted in laughter. We live in such an amazing community that such a wonderful donut shop exists. I could get philosophical about donuts and donut holes but I’ll spare you. Just find your way down to Red’s and have a donut, I won’t think less of you if you order anything other than chocolate old fashioned but do be sure to chat with Evelyn. She is the prototypical diner waitress and I mean that in the best way possible, she never stops working, she is always smiling, friendly, has an excellent memory, and always has an ear to bend for a customer.

A thing of beauty
Don’t you feel at home?