This may sound like sacrilege, but on Thanksgiving I don’t do pie. That doesn’t mean we don’t have pie; a fantastic local farm kitchen fills that need, but I don’t bake pies. Ever. While I do terrific fillings, the alchemy that results in a tender, flaky crust has always eluded me. Instead, I prefer to tempt guests to save a little room with a dessert they don’t expect. To dazzle them, this year I’m turning to The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak (Ten Speed Press; September 29, 2015).
One of the things I love about Ptak’s recipes is her emphasis on flavor over appearance and her judicious use of refined sugar and flour. Like everyone else, my family includes a vegan, a triathlete, a perpetually embarrassed individual with lactose intolerance and several folks “watching” sugar, cholesterol, calories and/or salt. The last thing I want is to have them abstaining and just watching everyone else eat dessert. With these recipes, I feel confident their needs will be met. Ptak, who began her training at the legendary Alice Water’s Chez Panisse, incorporates whole grain flours (I can’t wait to try her Rye Chocolate Brownies), non-dairy milks (Coconut Cream Trifle Cake is her take on Mexican favorite Tres Leches Cake) and fresh fruit with very little sugar (her Cherry Cobbler requires a mere 3 tablespoons).
Ptak has become something of a London institution, but she’s actually a Northern California girl, and you can feel that vibe thrumming against the traditional scones and sponges she includes in her English bakery and café. After she followed her British fiancé to the UK, Ptak started selling homemade baked goods at a local outdoor market. She quickly outgrew her space and her shop, Violet Cakes, was born. Chef Jamie Oliver calls her “my favourite cake maker in the whole world.” Alice Waters says she has “an unerring sense of balance.” With such high praise, who could resist one of her luscious recipes?
So what am I going to make for Thanksgiving dessert? Well, there’s nothing like a combination of healthy ingredients mixed with liquor to tempt everyone. Add chocolate and no one will be able to resist. I’m a huge fan of pudding cakes and I can imagine this one with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. It will make the pies weep with jealousy.
Here’s the recipe from the pages of The Violet Bakery Cookbook.
Makes one 8- to 9-inch cake, which serves 6 to 8
4 ½ ounces pitted prunes
3 tablespoons Irish whiskey
8 ½ ounces dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids) chopped into small pieces
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
5 eggs, separated
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 1/3 cups ground almonds
Soak the prunes in whiskey. If you can do this the night before, all the better.
Preheat the oven to 355 degree Fahrenheit (320 degrees if you have a convection oven). Butter an 8- to 9-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper.
Put the dark chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl or it may spoil the chocolate. Stir occasionally to emulsify the butter and chocolate. Once the chocolate has melted, take the pan off the heat to cool slightly but keep away from any drafts.
Put the whites and yolks into the two separate bowls and, starting with the yolks, add half of the sugar and whisk to thicken. Fold the thickened yolks into the melted chocolate and set aside.
Chop the prunes into eights and add to the chocolate mixture along with the ground almonds.
Beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar and the sea salt until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture just until incorporated. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will be slightly soft in the middle, but do not over bake it or the gooeyness will be lost.
Serve warm or at room temperature.