Friday, February 24, 2017

My “Secret” French Recipe For Chocolate Cake

Stashed in my suitcase en route to Pittsburgh this week was a tattered and torn French recipe for what I think is the world’s best chocolate cake. And it’s so easy.

The dense layer, somewhere between brownie and lava cake, is called a “Reine de Saba” or a “Queen of Sheba” cake.

The recipe came my way via Eve Bark (merci!), at an orientation session to life in Paris called Bloom Where You're Planted. She not only gave us the recipe, but baked enough cake to give everyone in the audience a bite. Oh la la!

If this cake was any clue, life in Paris was going to be sweet.

For the longest time, I thought the cake was Eve’s invention and my personal secret weapon for dessert, even as France fell in love with le brownie, le muffin, and most recently, le cupcake.

Finally, I thought, I’ll bring this recipe to Pittsburgh – to America!

But in converting the recipe to U.S. measures and in Goggling around this past week, I realized that SOMEONE ELSE brought the Queen of Sheba to America a long time ago.

Julia Child in 1961.

She beat me by 56 years!

Julia included the cake in her book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” And she featured it on her TV show "The French Chef." See the vintage video here.

You’ll also see the cake in the film “Julie & Julia,” about Julia Child’s foodie experience in Paris, and Julie’s experience following in the master’s foodsteps, er, footsteps.

Respectfully speaking, Julia’s cake complicates things. You really don’t need the rum and almond extract, or the chocolate-butter frosting, or the slivered almonds decorating the whole thing.

The cake itself is amazing, and if you must, a dusting of powdered sugar or vanilla ice cream will do the trick. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Eve’s variation, and my variation on hers, is a one-bowl one-layer wonder. So here we go. Done the apron, and get to work:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour one 8-inch or 9-inch cake pan. In a large microwavable bowl, melt 4 ounces of dark chocolate (or semi-sweet chocolate chips) in a microwave on medium power. Whisk in 1 stick of butter (or margarine or canola oil), 2/3 cup plus one tablespoon of sugar, three eggs, one-third cup almonds ground in a food processor, and ½ cup flour. Bake only 20 minutes for a 9-inch cake or 30 min for an 8-inch cake--until barely done. Cool for 10 minutes. Eat warm.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The United States Of Pittsburgh?


In a week I’ll be flying home to my native Pittsburgh for a week’s visit. Take me home city roads! They say you can never truly go home again, but I'll try.

Tens of thousands of us Pittsburghers left home in the 1980s, mostly for job reasons in what's called the Pittsburgh diaspora. It’s an almost biblical story of exodus.

One measure of the sheer size of this migration is the reach of The Pittsburgh Steelers. Via SteelerNation, the city is known to have the broadest fan-base of any football team in the U.S. That aside, the Internet and social media have made it easier for ex-yinzers to keep in touch.

Apart from seeing family, of course, I hope to check out some new sites. I especially want to see places with Paris-Pittsburgh connections. Like the birthplace of writer Gertrude Stein, who lived in Paris and cultivated artists like Picasso. And the birthplace of Mary Cassatt, the American Impressionist painter who joined a circle of artists in Paris including the Manets and Berthe Morisot.

I’m also curious to see the up-and-coming neighborhood of Allentown, which was spiraling down when I was growing up. My high school, Hilltop Catholic, now closed, had one of its buildings there. Allentown is also home to magnificent St. George church, recently closed as well.

My favorite neighborhood is under-rated Brookline, just a walk from my parent’s place. There I find authentic and amazing donuts for breakfast, Greek sandwiches for lunch, and Mexican sidewalk tacos for dinner. In between bites, I like to stop at the Carnegie Library branch to grab a book or a DVD.

The good news is that the exodus of of Pittsburgh has stopped. The city’s vibrant culture and affordability is attracting millennials, a new generation of workers who are digging in. The Lost Generation of natives that left Pittsburgh can never go home again to exactly the place we remember, but perhaps to a better place, which has become less blue and more white around the collar.

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog,, about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Best Books Of The Year

Let’s skip the nominations and just roll out the red carpet for PPM’s best books of the year. All of these books have either a Paris or a Pittsburgh connection—and sometimes both. If there’s a theme running through the selections, it’s about overcoming difficulties as society changes.

PPM's Best Books of the Year!

1. “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance (2016). For insight into the working class “culture in crisis,” this memoir brings it home. It also hit home for me. Vance’s grandmother left Kentucky for better times in Ohio, but the times they were a changin'. Despite chaos at home that nearly ruined him, with his grandmother’s help, Vance became a Marine and went on to graduate from Yale Law School.

2. “Baker Towers,” by Jennifer Haigh (2005). The author, born in Barnesboro, a coal town 85 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, goes back in time to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a town in the 1940s through the 1960s. In Haigh’s book, men have more opportunities than women than the coal mine and the dress factory.

3. “The Paris of Appalachia,” by Brian O’Neill (2009). This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist writes lovingly about what’s great about Pittsburgh, and what’s terribly wrong. The people are friendly, housing is affordable and commutes fairly short, and there are sports galore. But the city has been strangled from growing into a functional and modern metro area.

4. In the category of best foreign-language book, the award goes to “Berthe Morisot,” by Dominique Bona, a portrait of the French Impressionist painter (1841-1895) who struggled with Manet, Degas, Monet, and Renoir in Paris to develop a new way of painting and seeing. Where’s the Pittsburgh connection? One of Morisot’s friends in Paris was the Pittsburgh-born painter Mary Cassatt.

What are your favorite books of the year?

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.