This winning entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge -- in which we asked readers to share their more interesting green foods -- comes to us courtesy of Lucy Mercer. Check out this week's Challenge here.
Spring is all about green -- the pine trees get lost in the woods among the leafed-out hardwoods. The daffodils send their chlorophyll-plumped stems to the sky, the grass awakens and replaces its brown blanket with a verdant one. The markets start to show off green as well -- forget the coarse, bitter greens of winter, welcome the tender spinach and lettuces of spring. Woody herbs fade and the tender ones appear, in the market and the garden.
I guess you could say I have a garden; it's really just a glorified flower bed, home to daffodils, crocuses, lamb's ears, a few ornamental grasses and a selection of herbs. The rosemary, lavender and oregano are steady friends, surviving the winters and bouncing back every summer. I plant basil when the ground warms; it has no chance of surviving the winter here. The mint, however, like cockroaches and Keith Richards, could survive a nuclear holocaust and still thrive. I used to keep mint in pots, a sane proposition to contain its trailer trash ways. Last year, in a temporary lapse of judgment, I let my daughter transfer the mint to the flower bed. The plant promptly became viral, spreading faster than an ultra-conservative anti-presidential diatribe on Facebook. In the cool days of fall, I pulled up runners 4 feet long, snaking through the bulbs and shrubs in the bed. Even the roots smelled like Doublemint gum.
The freshness inherent in mint makes it a cool choice for a spring dessert. Enter the Grasshopper pie, a dessert based on a cocktail consisting of crème de cacao and crème de menthe. As tempting as that boozy concoction sounds, I remade it to serve children. In church cookbooks (and maybe this is a Southern thing, but I suspect it's more of a rural America thing) you'll find recipes created without alcohol with the qualifier "Baptist." As in "Baptist Harvey Wallbanger Cake" and "Baptist Grasshopper Pie." Well, this is a Baptist Grasshopper Cake. Dark chocolate layers, a fluffy minty filling, covered with a glossy chocolate ganache glaze. It's like an Andes Candies cake, cool and refreshing, with an unnerving green ribbon through the middle.
I put this cake together using recipes from the "King Arthur Flour's Baker's Companion," a reliable cookbook for family baking. Like Shirley Corriher's "Bakewise" and Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Cake Bible," it's the kind of cookbook that helps aspiring bakers turn ideas into reasonably attractive culinary creations.
My unique spin on this dessert is the chocolate mint leaves. It's been a few years (OK, a decade, or maybe two) since I've turned these out, but they are fun to make with children and really dress up a cake. Take fresh, clean mint leaves and press them between two layers of paper towels and weight with a book. You want flat, unfurled leaves. You may have good results with a paint brush alone (make sure it's impeccably clean), but my best results were with a combination of a baby feeding spoon and a stiff child's paintbrush. Melt 2 ounces of white chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate in microwave and stir until smooth. Place parchment paper on baking sheet. Take a flattened leaf, and working on the underside of the leaf, place a teaspoon of chocolate on the leaf. Use the brush to spread the chocolate to the edges of the leaf. Do this fairly thickly and evenly. Place finished leaves on tray and place in refrigerator to cool. When set, carefully peel off the leaf, beginning at stem end. Arrange finished leaves on cake or individual plates.
This cake would be quite nice served as dessert at an Easter family meal. Easter, as sure a sign that spring is here as any.
Chocolate Mint Cake (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cups Dutch-process cocoa
¾ cup buttermilk (preferably whole-fat buttermilk)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
½ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hot water
- Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
- In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa, buttermilk, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the hot water (the batter will be thin) and pour batter into pans.
- Bake the cakes for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn them out to cool on a wire rack.
Grasshopper Mint Filling (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)
¼ cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
1 cup marshmallow crème
Green food paste
- Beat together the shortening, butter, salt, vanilla extract, peppermint extract, and powdered sugar, until fluffy.
- Gradually beat in the corn syrup, until well blended. Add the marshmallow crème and beat until fluffy. Add the green food paste a dab at a time until the frosting reaches the desired level of greenness.
Dark Chocolate Glaze (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion)
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- Place the cream, corn syrup and salt in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Add chocolate and stir. Continue heating until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.
- Cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, so that the glaze thickens slightly, but is still pourable.
To assemble cake: spread mint filling between layers and cover cake with chocolate glaze. Decorate cake with mint chocolate leaves.