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Ah, end of the first week of the new year. Plum pudding? Done. Custard sauce? Jar licked clean. Cookie tin? Cleaned and put away (okay, so it’s in the drying rack).

Sweet tooth? Still there.

There is still chocolate left in this house, very good chocolate. This season is so wonderful for citrus, though, that my thoughts drift toward a dessert I loved to make in the mid-1990s: Clementines soaked in muscat wine. Back then, I worked for Hay Day Country Farm Markets. Clementines were extremely seasonal, arriving from Spain after Thanksgiving. Great excitement when the produce manager gave the nod: The clementines had met his quality standards. Those standards meant there was an end to the season too, with the crop eventually running too small and sour for Hay Day to carry. Now clementines are ubiquitous — and are still a great midwinter treat.

The wine I first used was Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, a not-too-sweet fortified French dessert wine with enough acidity to keep the floral overtones from taking over. Now I make this with an American cousin of Beaumes-de-Venise, an orange muscat wine called Essencia made by Quady Vineyards in California.* I’m giving you both options because who knows how easy it is to find either one where you are. Whichever you use, the blend of clementines with wine is virtuous enough to pass for post-holiday dessert deprivation while still being a wonderful sweet.

I made this dessert often when I was working for Hay Day and living in downtown Greenwich, Connecticut. Southern New England winters can be icy and dark. One particularly snowy, cold and gray winter, I fought back by leaving little white Christmas lights strung around my glassed-in porch until the spring time-change. My pals Eliza and Doug were passing through — January, maybe, or the dread February — and stopped for dinner. I don’t recall the main part of the meal, yet I remember serving them clementines, slightly warm, plumped up with a mixture of orange juice and Quady’s Essencia. We sat in the sparkle of candles and those fierce little stringed lights, looking at a dark and snowy streetscape, smelling flowers and tasting sunshine.

Sunny Clementines from Baking Family

Sunny Clementines

Serves 4

  • 5 or 6 clementines, peeled and sectioned, as much white pith removed as possible
  • 3/4 cup muscat dessert wine such as Quady Essencia or Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice

Before dinner, put clementines and wine in a saucepan and stir together; heat over medium heat JUST until liquid starts to simmer. Turn off heat, add orange juice and cover the pan. At the end of dinner, remove the pan lid, ladle clementines and sauce into small fancy bowls and serve alongside a glass of the wine you used in the dessert. (If when you go to serve them you find the clementines have cooled too much, turn on the heat for a couple of minutes. Make sure that the mixture does not come to the boil.)

*Quady now also makes something called Electra, which I ran into when a wine-shop owner insisted that it was “the new Essencia.” Uh, no, it’s not. Electra is a pale, light-alcohol ghost of the good stuff. Leave it on the store shelf.

Oh my heavens, how could I have just posted Chocolate Coma Cake without its partner in crime? Here you go.

This is the same icing that led to the recent unfortunate icing disaster, but that’s just because I was truly messing with it. Done without fiddling, this icing is foolproof — dark, delicious and easy.
Read the rest of this entry »

My other favorite cake in this book — the best basic yellow cake around — makes two restrained layers. If you’re going for chocolate, however, you might as well jump in with both feet: Three hefty layers, tangy with sour cream and rich with chocolate.

This recipe is mine, not Grammy’s. I handwrote it, years ago, when all my recipes fit into a half-size canvas loose-leaf binder. The title of the recipe started as plain “chocolate cake,” but after a few makings, I amended the title with the word “coma.”

When you serve this, you have about twenty minutes after the cake hits plates until your guests develop glassy stares and conversation lapses into sugar-induced silence. The cake is worth it.

Renee's birthday cake from Baking FamilyBesides pure heft, the advantage of a three-layer cake is that you can get fancy with the icing. The last two times I’ve made this, I’ve put a simple dark chocolate frosting between the layers, then topped the whole thing with white buttercream and used the rest of the chocolate icing to decorate. Fun, and not as complicated as it sounds.

(I almost called the dark-chocolate frosting a “ganache.” Then I realized that at least a few of my dear readers would laugh their heads off if I put “ganache” and “simple” in the same sentence.)

The straight-up way to serve this cake? Just wrap that chocolate frosting all around, inside and out. That’ll give you the full “coma” effect. And your guests — or family or co-workers — will love you for it.

Chocolate Coma Cake from Baking Family

Chocolate Coma Cake

Makes one 9-inch three-layer cake

  • 6 ounces (6 squares) unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour — or butter and line with parchment — three 9-inch cake pans.

Break chocolate into a saucepan and melt over moderate heat; don’t let it boil. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture in three parts, alternating with three parts milk and mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into the pans, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cakes smell good and are springy to the touch. Set pans on racks to cool, then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.

Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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