I'm trying to run through a few new recipes before a big baking project I have lined up for this weekend (more on that later), so on Monday night I decided to try two recipes that both looked quick and easy. The first was "Swedish Visiting Cake" from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours. Greenspan is a highly-regarded baker who also wrote the companion book to the Julia Child PBS series of the same name, Baking With Julia.
The Swedish Visiting Cake was a simple almond cake baked in a cast-iron skillet (or, in my case, a 9-inch cake pan). The list of ingredients is straightforward (sugar, lemon zest, eggs, salt, vanilla, almond extract, flour, melted butter, sliced almonds) and the batter can be made in one bowl without a mixer. The finished cake was golden brown and lovely, with a crunchy almond and sugar-sprinkled top. The interior was delightfully moist and slightly chewy. I was not a huge fan of this cake; my major complaint was that the lemon was too pronounced, upstaging the almond flavor. The first step in the recipe is to add the lemon zest to the sugar and to "blend the zest into the sugar with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic." If I ever make this cake again, I will just stir the lemon zest into the batter with the rest of the ingredients.
This cake was so quick to mix and bake that I had plenty of time to also make a batch of "The Baked Brownie" (so-named not because they are baked in the oven, but because the recipe is from Baked bakery and coffeeshop in Brooklyn). Apparently Oprah has listed The Baked Brownie as one of her favorite things in O Magazine.
The Baked Brownie recipe is very simple (melt together butter, chocolate, and instant espresso powder in a double boiler, add sugar and brown sugar, whisk in eggs and vanilla, and stir in flour, salt, and cocoa powder). The brownie is lightly fudgy and tastes like childhood -- a beautifully simple but deeply chocolate treat. It would be spectacular with ice cream. I think this will become my standard plain brownie recipe from now on.