Archive for May, 2010


Spiced Chocolate Gotta-Have-Heart Gobs w/ Lemon-Lavender Creme (Baked)

    You’ve gotta have heart
    All you really need is heart
    When the odds are saying you’ll never win
    That’s when the grin should start

[ Equipment: slow cooker or oven. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

Revised: Feb. 7, 2011

The original Gotta-Have-Heart cake was a simple chocolate genoise, inspired by news of chocolate as a health food. When I was ready to replace the low-res pictures in that recipe with new ones, a new inspiration beckoned me to a different direction: creme-filled gobs (a.k.a. whoopie pies). Because the cake slices are so thin (1/4 inch), they’re really more like skinny cake sandwiches than the average gob or whoopie and better served on a plate than held in the hand, a more formal pastry. The basic chocolate genoise has been decked with Mexican-style flavorings: hot spices and ground almonds and a sturdier crumb, but has retained the moisturizing grape syrup drench. The upscale filling combines the earthy caramel of a dulce de leche spread with a heap of light, lemon-scented lavender creme.

Every year, there are countless news items extolling the health benefits of chocolate. At the time of the original Gotta-Have-Heart cake, headlines were proclaiming that chocolate eaters had a lower risk of heart attacks and possessed radiant skin with fewer wrinkles and that pairing chocolate with wine could protect against stroke. Hence, I mixed up mini chocolate heart cakes infused with Concord grape syrup to celebrate this cascade of cocoa-related revelations (Concord grapes being packed with resveratrol, a compound famous for its potential anti-aging properties and a synergistic combination with chocolate). Those were the original Gotta-Have-Heart cakes.

Last year, I came across an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about an east coast snack cake sweeping into west coast markets and eateries: the whoopie pie or gob. Gobs were now sold all over the Bay Area. They were a publishing sensation too. I counted no less than 6 cookbooks dedicated to the whoopie pie on and all published (or to be published) between 2009 and 2011. Gobs had become a culinary trend in America. So, when I began updating the Gotta-Have-Heart recipe for a new photo shoot, I pulled out the old mixing bowl and went to work on my own version of gobs.

The classic gob is better classified as a cake sandwich than a cookie sandwich, although over the years, the distinction has not been scrupulously observed. The cake itself is typically a sponge cake, charged with a reliable chemical leavener. A genoise cake in this recipe employs no chemical leavener, but relies on an intensely-beaten egg foam to lighten it. Because my only mixing device is an electric whisk (and not the fastest whisk at that), beating alone at room temperature will not fully saturate the egg foam with air. A method for making an acceptable electric-whisk egg foam was detailed in my apple madeleines recipe. It involved heating the batter twice to over 100°F/38°C.

In this recipe, maximum lift isn’t necessary. Plus, the extra ingredients for Mexican-style chocolate genoise collapse the egg foam anyway, leaving a fraction of the suffused air behind. That tiny amount of air still tenderizes the cake, so the egg foam can’t be avoided. To save time, I only partially whip the egg foam. However, for those with more powerful mixers than I have, I recommend beating a fully-saturated egg foam, because it will produce a more tender cake. Just continue beating on high speed in step 5 until a dripped ribbon stays visible for 15 seconds or longer.

Espresso powder appears to be the preferred ingredient for enhancing chocolate, but I used what I had on hand. The coffee bean powder very effectively punches up the cocoa flavor to match the cake’s deep intensity color. It’s nothing more than supermarket ground coffee (Folgers medium roast in this instance) that has been pulverized in a coffee grinder. The coffee powder must be very fine ground, or the cake will end up gritty. This is an important flavoring to ramp up the intensity of the chocolate. For substitutes, I’d try instant coffee powder or a coffee extract.

The cakes are baked in a falling oven (20 minutes at 270°F and 20 minutes at 250°F) so that the batter heats up faster and the air bubbles can expand more before it sets – but not to leaven. The purpose of the higher start temperature is to tenderize the cakes with a finer crumb. At no point should the cakes actually get hotter than 250°F/121°C, as the batter’s still not quite set when the oven temperature begins falling. Alternatively, they could be baked in a steady oven at 250°F/121°C for 50 to 60 minutes as originally specified, especially if the egg foam had been whipped to maximum aeration. Otherwise, a dash (1/4 teaspoon) of baking powder in the batter could also help tenderize the cakes.

When made in the specified pans, the cakes are about 1/2 inch thick, essentially the height of the batter before baking. Initially, I worried the cakes might be difficult to slice horizontally. However, the firm texture withstood thin slicing, and I was always able to do it without it tearing or crumbling, due in no small part to a sharp, finely serrated knife.

Historically, the creamy filling for a gob was a kind of marshmallow creme or a shortening-based frosting. In this recipe, the cakes are filled with prepared Dream Whip whipped topping mix, scented and tinted with lemon and lavender. At 140 calories per cup, it’s half as calorie dense as plain marshmallow creme. A meringue frosting, such as 7-minute frosting, made with fresh lemon zest and lavender powder, would be a good substitute for either Dream Whip or marshmallow creme.

The lemon zest and milk for the Dream Whip topping has to infuse for several hours in the refrigerator. I considered warming the milk first to accelerate the infusion, but heating would have changed the taste and the texture of milk and possibly the fluff of the topping. The recipe specifies 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest for the infusion. With the 1/4 teaspoon amount, the zest brightens the taste of the lavender creme and subtly scents it with lemony freshness – very delicious as it is. The optional 1/2 teaspoon of zest is for those who want a stronger lemon flavor. Lavender has been a mainstay flavoring of artisanal chocolates. I make the lavender sugar by fine-grinding dried culinary lavender flowers and granulated white sugar in a 2-to-1 ratio by volume. The sugar assists the spice grinder by adding heft to blossoms.

Makes 2 gobs (each gob can serve one or two)
– 190 calories per gob
– Oven temperature: 250°F/121°C


  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon almond flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon coffee bean powder, very fine ground (see text)
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon dark agave syrup or dark maple syrup (grade A)
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon raisin puree (see below, see text)
  • 1 teaspoon Concord grape jam
  • 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 cup lavender creme filling
  • 2 tablespoons dulce de leche (optional)

Raisin Puree

  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water

Lemon-Lavender Creme Filling (makes 1 cup)

  • 1/2 package Dream Whip (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/4 cup cold milk
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest (dried or fresh – see text)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lavender sugar (see below)


  • 1/8 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lavender sugar (see below, see text)
  • fresh grated lemon zest (optional)

Lavender Sugar (makes 2 tablespoons)

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers

Preheat oven or cooker to 270°F/132°C.

Raisin Puree Method:

1. Soak raisins in boiling water.

2. Puree the mixture with an immersion blender or in a mini food processor.

Concord Syrup Method:

1. In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix grape jam and water. Heat in microwave until the mixture simmers (about 1 minute).

Lemon-Lavender Creme Method:

1. In a small bowl, mix the milk and lemon zest. Cover and infuse in the refrigerator for 5 to 6 hours or overnight.

2. Strain the milk. Press the lemon zest against the strainer to extract any remaining liquid and discard the zest. If necessary, add more milk to bring volume back up to 1/4 cup.

3. Refrigerate the lemon-milk until ready to use.

4. Prepare 1/2 of an envelope of Dream Whip (about 2 tablespoons of mix) according to the package instructions with the lemon-milk and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

5. Mix in the lavender powder.

6. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Gob Cake Method:

1. Thoroughly mix together the flour, cocoa powder and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside. If available, cake flour can be substituted for the all-purpose flour and cornstarch.

2. Melt the butter in a small heatproof dish in the microwave. Mix in the olive oil and raisin puree. Set aside.

3. Put the egg, sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, agave syrup and salt in a heatproof bowl and whisk until frothy.

4. Bring a saucepan with 1 inch of water to a simmer and place the bowl over the saucepan. Monitor the temperature of the mixture with an instant-read thermometer (preferably a digital instant read). Stir the mixture until it reaches a temperature of 105°F/41°C. Heating the mixture will help it hold more air when it’s whipped.

5. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and whip the egg mixture with an electric whisk or mixer on HIGH speed until the batter turns a pale yellow and the volume triples. When dripped from the beater, the batter should trail a ribbon that stays visible for about 5 to 6 seconds (about 4 or 5 minutes of beating, depending on the speed of the mixer).

For those with a strong handheld mixer or a stand mixer, I recommend beating the egg foam until the dripped ribbon stays visible for over 15 seconds.

6. Sift a small portion of the flour mixture over the batter and fold in with a spatula or large soup spoon.

7. Drip a portion of the butter-oil-raisin mixture along the edge of the batter where it meets the bowl and fold it into the batter.

9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 until both mixtures are completely incorporated.

10. Grease two mini heart molds (5/8 cup capacity) and spoon batter into molds. The molds should be at least half full.

11. Bake for 20 minutes at 270°F/132°C. Then reduce the heat to 250°F/121°C and bake for another 20 minutes. (Alternatively, bake in a steady oven at 250°F/121°C for 50 to 60 minutes – see text.) Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or wood skewer into the center of a cake. It should come out clean, excluding any surface moisture.

12. Cool and unmold. Place on rack to allow any excess moisture on the bottom and sides to evaporate.

13. Each cake should be about 1/2 inch thick. Thinner cakes will be harder to slice.

14. Slice each heart cake horizontally and brush the inside surfaces with the grape syrup. Avoid brushing on too much syrup or the cake will be soggy.

15. Spread one side with lavender creme and the other side with (optional) dulce de leche milk-caramel spread. Dulce de leche may be softened in the microwave for easier spreading.

16. Reassemble the cake halves. Dust the top of each gob with a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and lavender powder. If desired, sprinkle on fresh grated lemon zest.

You’ve Gotta Have Heart from Damn Yankees


Apricot Almond Chai Cheesecake w/ Black-Tea Biscuit Crust (Baked)

[ Equipment: oven or slow cooker with temperature control. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths. ]

Revised Jan. 1, 2011.

This rich tasting (yet low fat), gooey texture, 7-inch cheesecake combines the smooth silkiness of cream cheese with the tang of active-culture yogurt, dotted with chunks of apricots, on top of a crunchy, smokey crust of black tea, almonds and molasses. It’s baked at 3 temperatures: 250°F/121°C for the crust alone, 220°F/104°C for the first layer of filling and 200°F/93°C for the second layer of filling. The thin uncooked batter cannot hold the apricot bits in suspension, so a barely set bottom layer provides a platform for the apricots. Once the top layer sets, no seam can be discerned between them. Because it’s an LTB cheesecake, it never cracks (at least it’s never cracked when I made it).

Cheesecake ingredients purchased in large quantities for testing recipes can be expensive, so I postponed thinking about a LTB cheesecake for a long time. I began the planning when a local market had a 50%-off sale on McCormick bottled spices. I stocked up like crazy. All the bottles I purchased were discounted except one labeled Chai Spice Blend, for which I paid full price. Chai tea is one of my favorite beverages.

Coincidentally, another market near me was almost giving away American Neufchâtel cheese (a.k.a. low-fat cream cheese) at 75% off the regular price. I purchased several pounds of Neufchâtel cheese. The neural gears in my brain put these ingredients together: Neufchâtel cheese plus chai spices equals a chai-spiced cheesecake! Like the tea that inspired it, this cheesecake would be light, aromatic and refreshingly sweet.

Between sour cream and yogurt to dilute the cream cheese into a batter for the filling, I went with a low-fat active-culture vanilla yogurt as a more balanced pairing with the finer flavor Neufchâtel cheese. A low-fat plain yogurt will work too by increasing the amount of sugar to 3/8 cup and mixing in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Low-fat homemade yogurts (1% or 2% milk) tend to be softer and thinner, but could be drained in a cheesecloth to thicken or if fermented for over 12 hours, will thicken to the same consistency as a firm commercial yogurt with a very strong tang.

As an alternative for the bottled McCormick Chai Spice Blend, McCormick’s website has a recipe that consists of 1/2 teaspoon each cardamom, cinnamon and ground gloves plus a pinch of white pepper. It’s definitely not the same as their bottled Chai Spice Blend. The label on the bottle just says: “spices including ginger, cinnamon and sugar”, so there are one or more secret ingredients. If I were going to try and create a substitute, I would mix cardmom, cinnamon, ground cloves, ginger and white pepper. eHow has a chai spice recipe with all these ingredients.

To add a little complexity, I mixed almond and apricot flavors into the filling and crust. The chai spices played well with the muted fruitiness of the apricots, and almonds were a natural fit with apricots (apricot pits are also called bitter almonds). At one time, I thought of layering ground almonds into the filling, but wasn’t sure that the abrupt change in texture inside the creamy filling would be welcome in a cheesecake. The chopped apricots varied the texture without grit or hard edges.

Normally, fillings with fruit or nut add-ins must be highly viscous (the cheese diluted with eggs only) to hold them in suspension or the add-ins will sink to the bottom. The 2-layer assemblage in this recipe simulates that capacity in a thin batter and may actually speed up the baking time, because the center of the filling has been exposed to more heat than if it had been all poured in a single layer. The one caveat is the first layer should be filled as soon as it can support the apricot bits. The longer the first layer bakes, the more likely it will overbake before the second layer is done.

I found no-crust and ready-made-crust cheesecake recipes online that bake below 200°F – well into the range of sous vide cooking, so LTB was not issue for the filling. The main challenge in this recipe was the crust, what style and whether to bake it separately or as a single unit with the filling. I wanted to try something other than the traditional crushed graham cracker crust. The first cheesecakes I made had a cake-like crust, based on a Pennsylvania-Dutch cheesecake called a smearcase cake. However, I came to realize that I like the contrast in textures of the smooth cream cheese against crunchy graham cracker crusts.

I developed my own crust based on a shortbread cookie dough fortified with almond meal, chai spices, specks of powdered black tea and molasses. There very little mixing in preparing the dough (the ingredients gently combined like in a pie crust) for a tender yet crunchy texture. The powdered black tea thematically complements the chai spices and gives the biscuit crust a hint of smokiness. (Powdered green tea in previous crusts colored the dough, but the delicate green tea flavors receded against the other robust and pungent ingredients.) To make black tea powder, I finely ground Twinings English Breakfast Tea in a coffee grinder. The Twinings is a blend of Kenyan and Assam black teas, but just about any black tea suitable in a chai tea should be a good substitute.

In the final analysis, it’s the molasses in the dough that brings in an echo of the traditional graham crackers. I hadn’t intended it at all – molasses is a complementary sweetener in chai tea. Then I looked up graham cracker recipes, and there they were: molasses and cinnamon (also a component of the chai spices) as the key flavor agents. Well, the benefit of making a crust from scratch is choosing the ingredients and baking it the LTB way. My local markets don’t sell graham crackers made with almond meal, black tea and chai spices (and probably no place else does either).

For this recipe, the crust was prebaked and then coated with an almond butter to waterproof it against the liquid filling, so that remained crunchy when served. In the pictures, I substituted a natural peanut butter for the almond butter, but the peanut flavor asserted itself a little too much. A mild peanut butter blend (I saw one containing flax meal and flax oil) might work too.

When the filling bakes, the crust must not overbake, so the trick is to finish the crust’s prebake quickly. The crust in the picture was baked for the full 40 minutes. Although dark (from the molasses and black tea) and crunchy, it didn’t taste burned. For a softer crust, I’d try baking it for around 30 minutes, when the biscuit center could still be a little bit fragile. It should firm up as it cools.

After the crust prebake, the oven is cooled to 220°F/104°C to bake the first layer of the filling and then cooled again to 200°F/93°C for the second layer. The lower temperatures are meant to protect both the filling and the crust from overbaking, so that the filling comes out moist and gooey, the modern standard for a good cheesecake. I actually like a very firm cheesecake, but everyone else online seems to prefer a so-soft-it-could-collapse-on-the-plate texture. Well, so be it. In my defense, I must say that a firm (if overbaked) cheesecake can be easily cut, wrapped and stored in the fridge. These super-soft cheesecakes fall apart if tightly wrapped in plastic, unless they’re frozen first.

Makes 8 or 12 servings
– 262 calories per serving (8 servings) or 175 calories per serving (12 servings)
– Oven temperatures: 250°F/121°C, 220°F/104°C, 200°F/93°C


  • 3/8 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon black tea powder (see text)
  • 1 teaspoon McCormick chai spice blend (see text)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground flax seed or flax meal (optional binder)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter or other nut butter (see text)


  • 8 oz. American Neufchâtel cheese (low-fat cream cheese)
  • 1 cup low-fat active-culture vanilla yogurt (see text)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (optional)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons McCormick chai spice blend (see text)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 6 to 8 dried apricots

Crust Method:

1. Into a medium bowl, sift the flour and almond meal. Then whisk in the sugar until well combined. As an alternative to the sifting and mixing, I will put the flour, almond meal and sugar in the bowl and rub it between my hands to combine them and eliminate any lumps.

2. Add chai spices, baking powder, baking soda and ground flax seeds.

3. Cut butter into small cubes and add to flour mixture. Cut in the butter with a fork or rub the butter and flour between hands to get an evenly crumbly texture. With the hands method, work fast so that the butter doesn’t melt and lump up the flour.

4. Add the molasses 1/2 tablespoon at a time and toss-press with the flour mixture until evenly coated and it forms a dough. The technique is like that for making a pie crust.

5. Grease a 7-inch springform pan or cake pan with removable bottom. Cut out a 7-inch diameter circle from wax paper or parchment paper and place in bottom of pan. Grease the top of the paper.

6. Break off pieces of the dough, and pat them evenly onto bottom of pan.

7. Bake crust at 250°F/121°C for 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are a light brown. Remove from the oven and let the crust cool. Check that the crust is firm and the surface is dry before proceeding to next step.

6. Spread the almond butter or other nut butter in a thin layer over the top of the crust.

Filling Method:

1. In a small dish, cover the dried apricots in boiling water and allow to soak for at least 1 hour. Drain and finely chop the apricots. Set aside.

2. In a bowl, mash cream cheese and yogurt with fork until well blended.

The reason for mixing with a fork in steps 1 to 3 (and not an electric mixer) is to minimize the amount of air whipped into the batter. If the batter has too much air, the cheesecake could rise during baking and collapse as it cools, leaving a depression in the center. An electric mixer is applied briefly in step 4 to break down any lumps.

3. Mix in the sugar.

4. Mix in the flour, salt, chai spices and almond extract. Now is a good time to taste the batter and adjust flavorings.

5. Mix in the beaten eggs.

6. Briefly puree the batter with an immersion blender or electric mixer to break up any lumps.

7. Heat the oven to 220°F/104°C. Place the pan with the biscuit crust back in the oven.

8. Pour 1/2 of the batter (about 1-1/4 cup) into pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the filling has set just solid enough to support the weight of the apricot bits. Test the firmness by dropping a piece of the chopped apricot onto the filling. If it floats in the filling, proceed to the next step.

9. Sprinkle the chopped apricots evenly over the filling.

10. Pour remainder of batter into the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F/93°C and continue baking for another 60 to 80 minutes or until cheesecake is firm when the pan is shaken EXCEPT that the center (about 3-inch diameter) wobbles a little.

11. Remove from oven and let cool.

12. Slide a knife along the edge to loosen the cheesecake from the pan and unmold.

13. Slice and serve with a sprinkle of brown sugar, chai spices and some chopped apricot.