The Simple Art Of Cooking

It’s that frenzied but delightful time of the year when all manner of celebrations have been planned for the festive days ahead. You have lots of party invitations and would like to give one in return. Yet the pressures of an elaborate brunch or an elegant holiday buffet may be a little daunting at this late date. So, what’s a host or hostess to do?

Throwing a “just desserts” party is, quite literally, a piece of cake. It can be as simple as platters of decorated cookies to a lavish dessert display. Make the last of the holiday days special and indulge your guests with a trio of chocolate desserts such as torta di mandorle, a rich chocolate torte, Italian style, a luscious chocolate mousse or, in keeping with tradition, a “Yule log” chocolate cream roll.

A beautiful tray of savory cheeses garnished with clumps of red and green grapes, crackers and candied nuts will add to the creativity of your dessert table. Then decorate the dessert buffet with garlands of holly, pinecones and colorful pillar candles. Compliment the cakes with hot Yuletide beverages such as steamy cups of cocoa served with dollops of whipped cream and hot cider garnished with fresh cinnamon sticks. And let the champagne flow.


This Italian inspired cake is incredibly light, rich and moist. It contains no starch or leavening. The eggs give it its structure and you will be amazed at how simple it is to prepare.

Serves 10 to 12

1/2 pound whole almonds, blanched

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped coarsely

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 teaspoon vanilla

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

4 eggs, separated

1 extra egg white

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar for decoration

Whipped cream for serving, optional

Butter an 8-inch springform pan then dust with plain breadcrumbs.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Blanch almonds in a saucepan of boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and slip off skins. Transfer to bowl of food processor fitted with knife blade and process until finely ground, (dry, and not pasty). Transfer nuts to a large bowl. Place chocolate in processor and process until fine. Add chocolate to almonds in the bowl and stir to mix. Add rum and vanilla and stir to incorporate thoroughly.

2. In a clean bowl or bowl of electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until creamy and smooth. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. When all the yolks have been added, remove bowl from mixer and fold in the almond mixture until thoroughly incorporated.

3. Beat egg whites at slow speed in electric mixer or electric hand beaters until just foamy, add cream of tartar and continue to beat at medium speed until whites form stiff but not dry peaks.

4. With a large rubber spatula stir one-fourth of the egg whites into the cake batter, then carefully fold in remaining whites. Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake 50 minutes to one hour. Cake is done when it pulls away from sides of pan or a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean.

5. Remove from oven and allow cake to cool at least 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen sides of cake by drawing a kitchen knife between cake and sides of pan. Remove sides of springform and cool completely on a rack. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with whipped cream, if desired. Can be made up to two days ahead.


Adding coffee to the chocolate mixture greatly enhances the deep rich flavor of this chocolate mousse.

Serves 10-12

4 eggs, separated

6 ounces imported semisweet chocolate

2 tablespoons strong coffee*

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 cup heavy cream


1/2 cup heavy cream

Candied violets (optional)

1. Place whites in a large mixing bowl or bowl of electric mixer; yolks in a small bowl and allow whites to come to room temperature.

2. Break up chocolate in small pieces and put in a heavy saucepan. Add coffee and melt over very low heat, or place in a small heatproof bowl and melt in a 250-degree oven about 10 minutes. When mixture softens, remove from heat and stir to a smooth cream. Stir 1 tablespoon butter at a time into the hot chocolate mixture mix well. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and stir until thoroughly incorporated.

3. In a bowl of electric mixer or in mixing bowl with hand electric beaters, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, adjust speed to medium-high, and continue to beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating about 1 minute until whites are very firm and shiny. With a large rubber spatula, spoon about one-fourth of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture and stir to soften. Carefully fold in remaining whites until thoroughly softened.

4. Whip cream in a cold bowl with cold beaters until the beaters drawn across the top leave light traces; then carefully fold into mousse. Transfer to an attractive serving bowl or soufflé dish.

5. To garnish: Whip 1/2 cup cream until stiff. Spoon cream into a pastry bag fitted with star tip and pipe a row of rosettes around the rim of the bowl. Top rosettes with candied violets, if desired.

Above recipe reprinted from Silvia Lehrer’s Cooking at Cooktique, Doubleday


Purchase the very best chocolate you can buy for this special occasion holiday cake.

Serves 8 to 10

5 eggs, separated

3/4 cup superfine sugar

6 ounces semisweet chocolate plus 2 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon rum

Confectioners sugar for decoration


Prepare pan: Line a jellyroll pan with waxed paper allowing a slight overhang. Grease one side with vegetable oil and invert onto pan. Flatten paper and lightly grease over top.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2.     Separate eggs into 2 mixing bowls, or into bowls of an electric mixture. Add sugar to yolks and beat until thick and pale in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Melt chocolate in a heavy saucepan with water over very low heat. When mixture appears softened, stir to a smooth cream. Cool. With a rubber spatula gently blend melted chocolate into yolk mixture alternately with the flour.

3.     With clean beaters, beat egg whites in bowl of electric mixer or portable hand mixer, at low speed until firm but not dry. Gently fold into chocolate mixture.

4.     Pour batter into prepared pan and spread to the corners. Bake on middle shelf of preheated oven 20 to 22 minutes. When cake is done it will be springy to the touch and pull slightly away form sides of pan. Let cool. Carefully tip and lower the pan onto a lightly moistened towel. Lift off the pan and peel away the waxed paper. Aided by towel roll up sheetcake lengthwise and rest 10 minutes to assume rolled shape.

5.     Meanwhile whip cream until firm. Fold in rum. Unroll cake and spread cream evenly, leaving a 1-inch border of exposed cake.  Use the towel to help roll up the cake. Lift two ends of towel and transfer cake to a rectangular platter. Cover with plastic and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours or overnight.


6.     To serve, cut off unattractive ends to expose the layers. Tap confectioner’s sugar through a sieve before serving. Decorate cake if you like with rosettes of whipped cream.

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