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Video: Willie bakes a family fave: German chocolate cake

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    >>> that's the german theme on today's kitchen's melting pot . and a cake that brings back great memories for me, not just because of that frosting, the german chocolate cake . i started as a young kid, like a lot of kids, i had a superman cake or different theme cake. then i hit the age where i think my mom thought i was ready for the german chocolate cake she makes for my dad. she would make it for my birthday every year. just the sight of that, the taste of that frosting just reminds me of being at home with my mom and my dad and my sister and my friends. i went with the german chocolate cake because my last name is germ german, geist . when you break it down, i'm german, french, english, irish, i'm norwegian. it's not quite clear what i am. like a lot of americans, i'm a little bit of a mutt. i've just received word the german chocolate cake , like me, is not really german. i think there's something about the homemade birthday cake because my wife, on my daughter's first birthday, started a tradition, where she takes a full cake and cuts the number of the birthday out of it. the first is number 1 , i have the number 2 cake and 3 cake and just through those images the cake tradition lives on. funny how a piece of food can bring you back to such a good and happy place. it does every year, still, at my advanced age . here to make her version is our chef of "bake it like you mean it." and chrissy is here as well. can i be honest, the german chocolate cake is not even german.

    >> not even remotely. from texas.

    >> my childhood, i thought it was from my geist heritage.

    >> i'm assuming a guy named german was german. it is like german and you can still pretend it's german.

    >> you will make a twist, a more sophisticated version?

    >> it is. this is a true german cake, my mother's favorite. they're called a german name and i called it after my mother, helga. couldn't be more german than that.

    >> you're fluent in german.

    >> how do you say no?

    >> nin.

    >> nin, nothing. what do we do here?

    >> first, we have the batter incredibly easy. you have almond tasting butter and eggs and sugar and flower and spices. i like to add a little ginger to make it spicy and cinnamon. you don't have to. it won't change the batter. the important part is you divide it evenly among three.

    >> why do you do that?

    >> because we will mix stuff in two. to one we add cocoa powder and black currant jam, which is very very german. you can mix it up. feel free to add whatever you like.

    >> all you. i will get in on it.

    >> we will divide the batter, divide the batter. we will put it on the sheet pan as well as you can, because it can run over a little bit.

    >> you want three separate sections?

    >> three separate sections. you don't have to be perfect because you can trim it as you go along?

    >> if you're not a baker, can you mess this up?

    >> no. you bake and no one will know and you eat it and no one will ever know. we have one that is going to be plain. the batter is relatively thick. you can smooth it out and know you will have a nice barrier, if it's too runny, refrigerator it 10 minutes .

    >> go in here?

    >> easy-peasy. you can bake it until it is firm and springs back to the touch and here we have the cake.

    >> beautiful.

    >> what you will do then. this is one of the simplest cakes because it doesn't require simp fancy frosting on the inside. you boil the sugar until it is melted. if you accidentally overcooked your cake, no worries. isn't that simple? then you start stacking with a little more courant jelly and you stack that stack. we would put a piece of marsh marshpand on the top and treat it with gonash.

    >> you stack them up.

    >> and you cut them up like they are here or slices, one, two, three, four, for or kids' birthday cake . there you go.

    >> chrissy, i will get you one. thank you so much. now, i feel actually german, not texas german .

    >> you are always a german to me.

    >> thank you.

    >> with a name like geist .

    >> right. how can i not be.

    >> you cannot be.

TODAY recipes
updated 2/20/2013 6:25:54 PM ET 2013-02-20T23:25:54

Recipe: Mandelkranchen (almond wreaths)

Ingredients
  • 1 pound (455 g) almond paste
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 egg whites, divided, plus 1 egg white set aside for finishing
  • 1/2 cup (70 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (180 g) sliced almonds, with skins on
Preparation

Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside. On each piece of parchment, draw seven (4-inch / 10-cm) circles evenly spaced 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Flip the parchment over so you can still see the outline of the circles.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste, 1/4 cup (50 g) of the granulated sugar, the vanilla and the salt. Slowly add 2 of the egg whites, until a thick, sticky, paste-like dough forms. (An alternative is to mix the almond paste and sugar in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and add the egg whites with the food processor running.)

In the clean bowl of a stand mixer, now fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk 2 of the remaining egg whites on high speed until foamy. With the mixer running, add 1/4 cup (50 g) of the remaining sugar in a slow, steady stream. Continue whisking until the meringue is stiff, white and glossy. Do not over-whip to the point of dryness.

Transfer one-third of the meringue to the almond-paste mixture. Stir until the mixture has lightened. Add the remaining meringue to the bowl and gently fold into the mixture.

Sift the flour over the mixture and continue folding until completely integrated.

Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large open pastry tip. Pipe 4-inch (10-cm) circles onto the prepared pan.

Using a pastry brush, cover each circle with some of the remaining egg white, reserving enough of the egg white for an additional brushing. Overlap the almond slices all along the top and sides of each circle. Brush the almond slices gently with egg white and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Allow the kränzchen to sit uncovered at room temperature for 3 hours to dry out (this creates a crisp exterior during baking).

Bake at 325 degrees (165 degrees C) for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Serving Size

Makes 14 wreaths

Recipe: Helgasteine

Since I was the littlest of little girls, dominosteine have been a Christmas staple in our home. Resembling petit fours more than cookies, these scrumptious cubes sing with flavor. From the marzipan that coats them, to the lovely jam nestling inside, to the delicate spiced cake layered in between, it's a marvel of baking genius. My mother, Helga, coveted these bites of holiday cheer above all else, and I make them each year in her beloved memory.

Ingredients
  • For the cake:
  • 2 (7-ounce / 200 g) packages almond paste (see note)
  • 1 cup (230 g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) honey
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch white pepper
  • 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon black currant purée (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • For the chocolate glaze:
  • 8 ounces (225 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I use Callebaut 60/40)
  • ⅓ cup (80 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
  • For the puree:
  • 4 cups currants
  • 1/4 cup sugar, more to taste
  • For the simple syrup:
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • For the assembly:
  • 1 (15-ounce / 430-g) jar seedless currant (or raspberry) preserves
  • 2 (7-ounce / 200-g) packages almond paste, rolled into a thin sheet about 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick (approximately the size of the finished stacked layers)
  • 1/2 batch chocolate glaze (see below), warm
Preparation

For purée:

Place your berries (4 cups / 760 g small berries) or other fruit in a sauce­pan with 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar, or to taste. (Berries such as currants and gooseberries are tart and may require more sweetness — do a taste test.) Simmer the fruit over low heat until the sugar has melted. Allow the mixture to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse the fruit mixture until smooth (you can use a blender or an immersion blender for this pro­cess as well). Strain the purée through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds, and voilà! Purée!

Freeze any extra purée in a zip-top bag. Purées are lovely in mousses, as sauces to accompany plated des­serts, and as toppings for sundaes! You can also buy fantastic premade purées in an array of fla­vors from ordinary (raspberry) to exotic (passion fruit). My favorite brands are Boiron and L’Epicerie. Check the internet for availability.

For the glaze:

Place the chocolate in a large metal bowl.

In a large saucepan, combine the cream, butter and vanilla bean paste and simmer over low heat until the butter has completely melted. Pour the cream mixture over the choc­olate, making sure the chocolate is completely covered. Allow to sit undisturbed for a few minutes, then whisk until the mixture has emulsified.

Make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees (165 degrees C). Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick baking spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste, butter, honey and granulated sugar and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and white pepper and mix to incorporate.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly among three bowls. Leave the first bowl plain; mix the black currant purée into the second bowl; and mix the cocoa powder into the third bowl.

Transfer the batters onto the prepared pan in three sections, spreading them evenly so that each batter takes up one-third of the pan. (If you want it to be neater, you can pipe each batter from a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip.) The batters will touch while baking but we'll trim those edges. Your objective is to have three individual blocks of cake: one plain, one currant and one cocoa.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cake springs back when you touch it and begins to slightly brown. Allow to cool completely.

Tips

Note: Packaged almond paste is often dry; I know it is against store policy, but I surreptitiously squeeze the box to make sure the stuff is fresh and malleable before I buy it.

Recipe: Krapfen

Ingredients
  • For the sponge:
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) warm whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • Pinch granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups (175 g) bread flour
  • For the dough:
  • 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) warm whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup (65 g) granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 2 cups (280 g) bread flour
  • For the assembly:
  • Vegetable oil (enough to fill a stockpot 4 inches / 10 cm deep for frying)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) apricot jam (or the jam or filling of your choice)
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preparation

Make the sponge:

Place the warm milk (not hot — you don’t want to kill the yeast) in a small bowl and sprinkle with the yeast and granulated sugar. Let sit undisturbed 3 to 5 minutes to bloom the yeast (blooming is the term for letting the yeast become active and bubbly in a liquid).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the yeast mixture and flour, and mix until smooth. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and allow the sponge to rise at room temperature. Proceed to the dough stage just as the sponge starts to fall, which takes about 1 hour.

Make the dough:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk and allow to bloom. Add the sponge and mix at low speed.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together egg yolks, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt and granulated sugar. Add to the sponge mixture. Add the butter, small pieces at a time, mixing until incorporated. Slowly add the flour and mix until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic, 15 to 20 minutes.

Spray the dough with a light coating of nonstick baking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 1 hour at room temperature.

Divide the dough in half. Roll each piece into a rope and cut each into 10 shorter ropes. Roll each rope into a tight round bun, using no flour on your surface (to avoid flour burning in the hot oil). Place the buns on a parchment-lined sheet pan and allow them to rise in a warm place until slightly less than doubled in volume. Place a moist dish towel over the buns while they’re resting to prevent them from developing dry skins.

Add at least 4 inches (10 cm) of vegetable oil to a large stockpot and heat to 360 degrees (180 C).

Add the krapfen to the oil, one at a time, gently placing them in the oil seam side up. Six per batch is usually the perfect amount. Allow to brown for 4 to 5 minutes, then flip the krapfen and cook the other side for 3 to 4 min­utes, until brown. Transfer the krapfen to a cooling rack or a paper towel–lined sheet pan to allow oil to drain off and the krapfen to dry. Repeat with the remaining dough.

To assemble:

Fit a pastry bag with an open tip (large enough to allow jam to flow freely but small enough not to create a huge hole) and fill with the jam or filling of your choice. Insert the pastry tip into the krapfen and gently fill.

Sift confectioners’ sugar on top of your krapfen. Serve immediately.

Serving Size

Makes 20 krapfen

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