Chocolate-cayenne cake with raspberry filling

The pseudo Black Forest Cake was a success a couple of weeks ago (yes, posting here is very sporadic) and I was talking about it with one of the grad students as part of a broader conversation about cooking. This inspired her to make Colombian empanadas, and I found one at my desk on Friday. Yum!

To reciprocate, I thought I’d make another cake and bring her a slice. I did the chocolate genois again using the sous vide water bath. But not being content with making the same thing twice, I decided to play with the flavors. I like the Lindt dark chocolate bars with chili, so I went for a little spice in the chocolate.

Chocolate-cayenne genoise

Dry stuff

3/4 cup cake flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Sifted together.

Wet stuff

6 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat this together over the 115F water bath until peaks form.

1/2 stick butter, melted


  • I avoided the microwave exploding butter this time, but I did make two butter-related mistakes: I didn’t take it out of the freezer early enough and it wasn’t fully melted by the time I needed it. Then I overmixed the 1 c aliquot of the foam with the melted butter… note to self: do this by hand, not with the stick blender whisk! So I lost some volume. It was thinner than last time (compare the pic from the last post; that’s after it’s was cut in half!), which made cutting it it half a little bit harder.
  • Last time I only put parchment on the bottom of the springform. This time I decided to put parchment on the sides too. I was puzzled about how to get the parchment strips to hold up until I realized I could stick them to sides of the pan with softened butter.


Cake Syrup and Raspberry filling

The Framboise based cake syrup was good last time, but there was way too much of it. The recipe called for 8 oz of sugar and water and then an equal volume of liqueur. Way, way too much. The problem, of course, is being able to heat and dissolve a small volume. I decided to use a measuring cup as my cooking vessel.

1 oz sugar
1 oz water

I put the whole measuring cup in water in a small saucepan and heated it to dissolve the sugar. I added an equal volume of Framboise. Part of this was used to dampen the bottom layer of the cake.

I decided to modify this recipe for a raspberry cake filling. Instead of just frozen berries, sugar, and cornstarch, I used some of the syrup and some raspberry preserves.

1 cup frozen raspberries
2 tsp cornstarch (reduced from the 1T in the recipe)
~50 ml of the framboise cake syrup from above
1/4 cup raspberry preserves.


Non-dairy chocolate ganache

Recipes like this one suggest replacing the heavy cream with coconut milk. The first problem I had was using Martha Stewart, who suggests 8 oz chocolate with 1.5 c heavy cream. That’s about 12.5 g by weight. In hindsight, other sites suggest closer to a 1:1 ratio. I ended up making a way too think ganache and thickening it by mixing in pieces of Lindt 90% over a 110F sous vide bath. The final result may have been a bit too thick and possibly could have been used a a higher temperature for pouring over the cake. But the final result looked pretty nice.


The irregularity around the edges could be improved. I wonder if I should have trimmed it or primed it with something before pouring the ganache icing over it.

The bigger problem is that the loss of volume was not uniform. Once we sliced into it and ate it, there was maybe a 1/4 inch tough and eggy layer where the batter must have separated and settled out. Presumably this was due to the overmixing when I incorporated the butter.

Black Forest Cake part 2: Everything else

Once the Genoise was cooled, I made cake syrup and chocolate shavings (sort of). Cake syrup is just 50% sucrose plus flavorings. The recipe calls for 50% syrup an 50% Kirsch. We didn’t have Kirsch and Texas doesn’t sell anything over 17% alcohol on Sundays, so I used some Frambois we had around.

The recipe calls for a half recipe of his 8 oz water version… and that is still way too much. In the end, probably half a cup is more than enough.

I managed to bisect the cake with a serrated knife. Then, due to lactose intolerance, I used Cool Whip instead of real whipped cream (sacrilege, I know). It turns out that Kraft started adding milk and cream to Cool Whip a while ago, so eating this will still require lactaid tablets, but the cream is less than 2% of the total, based on the ingredients. In other words < 2% is cream, casein, plus other stuff.

I forgot to take a pic of the middle layer of Cool Whip plus frozen sour cherries in a hexagonal array. First we brushed on some of the Frambois/Syrup solution, then a later of Cool Whip. Cherries were embedded. Then we put on the top layer put on and moistened it further. Leaving a lot of leftover syrup. Cool Whip all over the outside and then decorate. I don’t have a cake wheel, so we just balanced the cake (still on the springform bottom) on an inverted bowl.

We tried to make the chocolate shavings using this method. But we probably overcooled the chocolate and also didn’t make it thin enough. When I went to scrape it into curls, the whole sheet came off in one piece. So I broke it up into pieces for the central chocolate “forest”. Maraschino cherries around the rim. Not as fancy as Joe’s, but not bad looking for someone who rarely makes cakes. Into the fridge at about 7PM.

We had it for dessert. Pretty good… needed more sour cherries in the middle layer.

Black Forest Cake part 1: Chocolate Génoise

Debby’s father’s birthday is coming up and one of her sisters is visiting. We decided to be overly ambitious and make a chocolate cake. Not content with just making a cake (I’m usually more of a pie person), I decided that Joe Pastry’s Black Forest Cake looked good. It starts with his Chocolate Génoise

2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3.5 ounces (3/4 cup) cake flour
0.75 ounces (1/4 cup) Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, room temperature
5.25 ounces (3/4 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The basic idea is to make an egg foam and fold in the dry ingredients. Note that there is no other leavening! The first problem is figuring out how to do the eggs. There are two issues from using Joe’s recipe.

  • I don’t have a stand mixer, which is not a big deal. But I need to figure out the appropriate volume container to use. It seems like typical stand mixer bowls are 4.5-5 quarts. On the other hand, the whole thing is going to fit into a 9″ springform pan. First discovery: the springform pan is not watertight enough to empirically measure its volume. So let’s calculate: 2.8 in h x 3.14 x 4.5 in ^2 =  178 in^3 = 12.3 cups, which is sort of consistent with this site, which gives 12 cups as the volume for 2 regular 9 in cake pans. But I assume we’re not going to fill the pan to the rim.
  • The related problem is how to heat the mixture without cooking it. This depends on what the container will fit in! Joe puts his mixing bowl over a pan of boiling water to heat the eggs, and monitors the temperature while whipping.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy a stick blender, so I used this as a chance to get the Cuisinart Smart Stick with a whisk attachment.

Note to self: melting butter in the microwave is not a good idea.

My solution to the egg beating was to use my Anova Precision Cooker to  hold a water bath at 115°F. The Anova is nice for this compared to my older Nomiku because it can work in a shallower water bath.

The pic shows the setup about halfway through the beating of the egg-sugar mixture. It ended up increasing in volume another inch or so… if I do this again I need a larger bowl.

I mixed about a cup of the egg foam with the melted butter and then transferred the whole thing to a larger bowl. I gently whisked in the flour and cocoa, leaving a few irregularities.

After pouring the batter into the pan (another new purchase!), I noticed that I had not put parchment on the sides. Hmm… too late to fix, and it’s a nonstick pan. Baked for 30 min at 375. Toothpick came out clean. Done at about 5PM on Sunday afternoon.

I did the double flip with parchment onto the cooling rack as described in Joe’s post, but I’m not sure why I needed to get the lower parchment out… his photo looks like the cake is back onto the lower panel of the springform pan.

Comparing my cake to his pictures, mine looks a bit more like the bottom of a cone. The sides came away from the walls of the pan, making the cake a bit narrower at the top than at the bottom. I wonder if this is related to the lack of wall parchment.

But I’m happy with how it came out – i.e. not collapsed – and it smells amazing.

Ethernet weirdness

Not what I usually think of as wireless internet

Yes, the connected light is green and showing “connected” for my display ethernet even though the display is unplugged. And even when it’s plugged in my computer only connects to the net via the backup wifi while in my office. The jack on the wall and the cable are OK, because they work with an older laptop with a direct connect ethernet jack.

Going to have to try this.

Update: that seems to have worked! Adding details so Google might find it for those with similar problems… it seems that something in the network configuration was corrupted. The info at the link suggested

  • Remove Display Ethernet from the System Preferences from the gui
  • Unplug the display
  • delete /Library/Preferences/NetworkInterfaces.plist (using sudo… I used mv instead of rm to move it to my home directory, just in case
  • reboot
  • plug the display back in.
  • Add back the configs to the gui version of Network Preferences

I found that in doing this I had to reenter the info for my manual IP configuration and DNS servers. But now I can connect again via the ethernet from my office.

Serious Eats pie crust

Lately I’ve been using Kenji Alt-Lopez’ Easy Pie Crust recipe from Serious Eats. Posting here will help find the link and preserve the very minor modifications I’ve made.  The original calls for using 2/3 of the 12.5 oz of flour in the first step. This is ridiculously precise, so I’m just doing the weighing of the flour in two steps instead of one. That’s the only modification.

  • Weigh 8 oz flour into the food processor. Add 2 T sugar and 1 t NaCl. Pulse to mix
  • Add 2.5 sticks of cold butter cut into chunks. Pulse in thoroughly (about 25 pulses)
  • Transfer to a bowl. Add 4.5 oz flour. Cut in with a pastry cutter or silicon spatula
  • Mix in 0.375 c ice water (6 T)


iOS 8 iBooks annoyances

I generally like the UI of iBooks better than the Kindle app, and I like being able to buy books inside the app. But there are some things about iBooks in iOS that really annoy me… some of these are new or worse in the version in iOS 8, where iBooks comes preinstalled.

  • Updates: a red circle pops up when a book has an update. I’m not sure why iBooks titles have updates in the first place, or why I should update a book I’ve already read and don’t plan to revisit, but the red dot demands attention. So you I go to my purchased list and find:
    • The update all option is gone
    • The number of books with update buttons does not match the number in the dot
    • Several of the books with update buttons don’t update: they bring up a dialog that says “The item you tried to buy is no longer available”. The update count appears to be the number of actually updatable items + 1 if you have any number that can’t be updated because they are no longer available.  Things no longer available include a lot of Project Gutenberg titles.
    • The annoying red circle used to be in a less prominent place in the UI, IIRC.
  • The all books view: At first this seemed great. iBooks collects books in a series into a stack, kind of like a folder, to make navigation easier. It even figures out if there are unpurchased items in a series you might want to buy. But there are problems:
    • the metadata being used to do these arrangements seems to have the quality control that gave us version 1 of Apple Maps.
    • a blue “new” triangle that appears on the upper right corner. This is for flagging a new purchase, which would be fine. But I have several stacks where none of the individual books are new, and I know I’ve read them, and there doesn’t seem to be any way of clearing the stupid New Triangle manually.
  • The iBooks store: Probably related to the poor metadata…
    • OK, I would be a better person if I knew more languages. But even PubMed can limit my search results to English
    • If the app knows that books are part of a series, why is it so hard to find the books in the series in the iBooks store?

Fortunately, once I’m inside a book these mostly don’t matter. But they’re the kinds of annoyances that make me slower to update whenever new versions of iOS and OSX come out.

JSmol2wp plugin released at

A while ago I wrote a WordPress shortcode plugin to embed Bob Hanson’s JSmol molecular structure viewer into WordPress posts and pages. Last weekend I finally got it into the plugin repository.

The basic usage for proteins is via a shortcode like this:

[[jsmol pdb=’1LMB’]]

The plugin fetches the appropriate record from the PDB and generates an applet like this:

[jsmol pdb=’1LMB’ load=’wireframe only;’]

If you use acc key and prefix a chemical name with a $, JSmol looks looks for the structure at NCI.

[[jsmol acc=$tryptophan]]

[jsmol acc=$tryptophan]

You can rotate and zoom the structure with your mouse. These default buttons in the applet are created automatically by the plugin, or you can add custom buttons that run Jmol scripts. Using the outstanding flexibility built into Bob’s code (I just wrapped it for WordPress), you can fetch small molecules from remote repositories, or load files uploaded to your WordPress installation. The plugin whitelists pdb, cif, cml, jvxl, mol, mol2, xyz, and ccp4 filetypes for upload (this might be problematic for some hosting providers).Click the About/Help link to see more examples and documentation.

WP PubMed Reflist

I committed a couple of updates to my WordPress plugin for getting reference lists from PubMed. The new version allows customization of the display. I preloaded some templates that approximate a few popular formats

NIH format

[pmid-refs key=’jimhu’ style=NIH limit=5]

ASM format

[pmid-refs key=’jimhu’ style=ASM limit=5]

PNAS format

[pmid-refs key=’jimhu’ style=PNAS limit=5]


The formatting options in 0.7+ allow handling of long author lists to give et al. were there are too many authors.

Because I do WordPress development only sporadically, I made some errors in the 0.7 release. I do my testing on my Mac, where unfortunately I set my laptop up to have case-insensitive filenames, and had a uppercase vs lowercase filename error in the subversion commit for 0.7. When fixing the filenames on a Mac, you can’t just use svn mv filename fileName. You get an uninformative error. You have to do it in two steps doing something like this:

  • svn mv filename filename.tmp
  • svn mv filename.tmp fileName

Sous vide brunch

Sunday brunch:

Food processor hollandaise

  • melt half a stick of butter. While melting, in the processor bowl
    • 2 egg yolks
    • dash of dijon
    • salt
    • pepper
    • juice of a lemon
  • pulse
  • add the melted butter

After processing, I suspect that the butter was not hot enough to cook the egg yolks, and the sauce was too thin. So I tranferred the sauce to a stainless bowl and used the 170F sous vide that was cooking the eggs as a double boiler bath and whisked the hollandaise until it thickened.

Soft boiled eggs

Two circulators going at once! The Nomiku is working on some short ribs while the Anova did the eggs.

The basic problem with sous vide eggs is that the kind of long-term thermal equilibrium that works for meat is not ideal for eggs. The reason is that the yolks set at a lower temperature than the whites. So what people do is use the sous vide as a way to boil eggs below actual boiling. I tried 170F for 15 minutes. The result had the yolks set a bit more than I wanted, and the whites were better but still a bit runny.


Didn’t have Canadian bacon, so I used some pan-fried bacon to make a pseudo eggs Benedict.


Thanksgiving dinner

We decided to be antisocial this year and are doing Thanksgiving at home. Since there are only three of us, a whole bird is too much, so I went for a Sous Vide turkey breast with some sides to be determined.

Classic Cranberry-Orange Relish

before -pecans

The first thing I’m going to make is the cranberry relish, so the flavors can mature while other things are going on.  This is also the most ridiculously easy recipe of the day: mix cranberries, unpeeled orange pieces, and sugar in the food processor and blast it to the appropriate texture. After doing this, Debby reminded me that we add nuts sometimes, so we added pecans

  • I bag cranberries
  • 1 orange cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup sugar (less than the traditional recipe, which calls for 3/4-1 c)
  • 1 cup pecans

Processed, transferred to a stainless bowl and into the fridge.

Sous-vide turkey breast

After we decided yesterday to be antisocial, Debby went out and looked for a small turkey. She bought a turkey breast by mistake: the label said “Fresh young turkey” but the tag showed that it was a bone-in breast. So I went with a Serious Eats recipe for Sous Vide Turkey breast.


IMG_1236.JPGStarted with a 6.13 lb bone-in turkey breast from HEB.

  • IMG_1239.JPGFirst you remove the skin.  Turkey skin is harder to just rip off the flesh than chicken skin, but with some coaxing with a knife I got it all off and set it aside.
  • The recipe at Serious Eats talks about using a boning knife, which we don’t own, to debone the breast. When getting boneless breast filets off of a chicken, my friend Tad Simons showed me many decades ago to use the wings as handles to pull the breast meat off the ribcage. There aren’t any wings on the bone-in breast we bought, so I used a combination of fingers and a chef’s knife to get the breast filets off the carcass. The top picture shows the nice side of the filets. The other side is a lot messier, and I also ended up with chunks of meat that I cut off the carcass. I set these aside  to cook separately.
  • To get a more or less cylindrical piece of breast meat, you put season the inner surfaces with salt and pepper, align them head to tail, and then tie it up with twine. This got transferred to a 1 gal ziploc bag and put away for later.
  • I browned the carcass a bit and made stock. I omitted carrots, onions, and celery for now so I could give some scraps to the very attentive audience:


Sous vide

IMG_1245.JPGMoved the bag to a 145F water bath at 2:10. Actually the water bath was set to 145F at 2:10. Put the extra meat in a smaller bag and added it to the water bath later (4:30). This is how the turkey breast looked when it was pulled and sliced at about 6PM

 Turkey skin

Detail from Michaelangelo’s Last Judgement

Cut parchment to fit a rimmed baking sheet and spread the skin onto it. Doing that reminded me of Michaelangelo’s Last Judgement.

Turned the oven to 400F. Covered the skin with a second piece of parchment and then a second matching cookie sheet.

Looked at it about 20 minutes later. I think I should have been more aggressive about removing the blobs of fat attached to the skin. There was a bunch of rendered turkey fat in the lower pan… poured this off to use for the gravy.

I put the skin back uncovered after pouring off the fat.  The skin comes out like a crackling. I liked it, but it’s different from the well-roasted skin on a whole bird.



Sautee’d a mirepoix of celery and onions (discovering on the way that we are out of carrots). Added the turkey stock from above with a bay leaf and a dash of soy. Meanwhile, used the turkey fat and some butter to make a roux by browning some flour. Strained the stock and then added it to the roux to make gravy.

Roasted purple sweet potatoes with yellow bell peppers

IMG_1240.JPG IMG_1241.JPGI had impulsively bought some Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes at HEB, and the Ags are playing LSU tonight. So I decided to adapt this recipe to use purple potatoes and red peppers.

  • Preheat oven to 450
  • Peel and cut potatoes into chunks. These were smaller than the regular sweet potatoes, so I used  smaller chunks
  • Add strips of yellow bell pepper
  • Toss with cumin, red pepper flakes, a few cloves of minced garlic, and olive oil.
  • Transfer to a baking dish, add a some water

I think the idea is to get the water to do some initial steaming and then have the dry heat roast the potatoes and peppers. Got this into the oven at 2:40.  I figure I can reheat this later if necessary after making the dressing.

After 30 minutes, the sweet potatoes were nowhere near done and the liquid was not evaporated; if anything more had rendered from the veggies. Transferred to a cake pan to spread them out more and put it back in. Out about 15 minutes later and transferred back.

The dish tastes good, but the bright purple color is muted by the cumin and/or the cooking.

Corn bread dressing.

IMG_1243.JPGBased on scanning various recipes (plan ahead? Ha!), I think this will need 350F for about an hour. Using premade cornbread stuffing, I’m going to add:

  • Celery, onions. Sauteed and moved to a bowl
  • Mushrooms, Sage. Sliced mushrooms and cut the sage leaves as sort of a chiffonade. Sauteed in butter and added to the bowl
  • Granny smith apples. Chopped two into chunks
  • Tossed with cornbread stuffing from the bag. Added some thyme.

Some recipes call for adding eggs. Others don’t. So I tried both ways on two different aliquots. Into a 350F oven at 3:50 PM. Out at 3:45 to allow room for the  turkey skin. Should have been earlier and I should have used more stock. Ended up adding more afterward, so the experiment to see whether eggs matter was uninterpretable.

 Final result

IMG_1246.JPGThis is the third time I’ve done some kind of sous vide poultry, and while it was good, it’s still more like poached turkey than roasted turkey… which makes sense given how the meat is in a bag of its own juices by the end of the cooking time. With red meats the final sear and the fact that conventional braises are at higher temperatures obscures the difference, but with poultry and fish I think it’s more apparent. Some of the difference has to be the lack how the meat bastes itself with that fat that rendered from the skin.

As long as you are OK with that, Sous Vide for the turkey does have two big advantages:

  • Flexibility in the cook time. I ended up leaving the meat in the water bath longer than planned when Debby and her father took the dog for a pre-dinner walk.
  • Oven space. Instead of tying up the oven for several hours, the turkey only needed about half an hour for the crispy skin.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving meal, whatever you had.