Oh, so…you want an explanantion? Okay, so I guess there’s a few things we should talk about. I realize, dear readers, that I haven’t posted in two months, but I really can’t believe it–the time seems to have flown by. And it’s funny, because the individual days seem oh-so-long as the husband and I count down the days to our first baby’s Birth Day. That’s right, people, Piece of Cake has a Bun in the Oven. And I have for quite a while now, more than six months to be honest. So you can look back at the break I took at the beginning of the year and sort of attribute that to not wanting to eat or really do much at all, let alone bake something. And then the resurgence of my appetite, sweet tooth and creativity with my last barrage of posts before I disappeared for a while again. Sigh. I’m afraid life is not going to get any more predictable than that anytime soon. Like for the next 18 years at least. But we are excited and happier than ever around here. I am feeling great and hopeful and full of wonder and worried and all the things I hear a first time mother-to-be should be feeling.
I’ve found the most common question from people who find out we’re expecting is “What have you been craving?”. Well, it’s more like what haven’t I been craving. It changes everyday, really. I hear of women having to have a certain thing at a certain time everyday just to be able to function, but I haven’t found that to be the case. It’s totally unpredictable–some days I can’t get enough milk or fruit (virtuous!) and other days I will plow through half a dozen cookies and wonder where they all went. Then I look down at the crumbs that have fallen all over my growing belly and know the answer. There was the evening early on in my pregnancy where I shoved an entire can of black olives into my face at an alarming rate (upon telling a nurse at my doctor’s office this story, she asked all cute-like if I’d put them all on my fingers before eating them and I responded, “Lady, I didn’t have that kind if time!”). I try to not give in to every whim, though. I still haven’t had any Little Debbie Star Crunches or Zebra Cakes–huminuh, huminuh. I do feel a twinge of guilt at eating such processed and plasticky (though delicious) items when I’m reminded with nudges, kicks, rubs and rolls that there is a little person inside me who is trying to grow on whatever I put into my mouth.
So I’ve been trying to be a good mommy to this baby whom I already love so much I am certain my heart will explode when we finally meet face to face. I am still exercising regularly and drinking loads of water, getting my fruits and vegetables in everyday and have cut my caffeine down so much I am sure I deserve a major award. And of course, no more Moonshine for me. Plus, when I do all those things, I feel a lot less guilty about indulging in made-from-scratch desserts (or store-bought ice cream, whatever). Often. It is a miracle I passed my recent glucose tolerance test with flying colors. For those of you who don’t know, this is something every pregnant lady has to do to check for gestational diabetes. It involves slamming a sugary beverage that tastes like orange soda that’s been sitting out on the curb for about a week and then sitting in starving anticipation for an hour before having one’s blood drawn. Worst!
Anyway, I am relieved I passed the test because if I failed that would mean going on a no-sugar diet and that would just be bonkers. Because like I said, I haven’t suddenly lost my sweet tooth the way I’ve inexplicably lost my ability to eat chicken (ugh, gag, shudder). Although I haven’t been saying so, I have indeed been baking during this last blogging hiatus. It’s just that none of it has been terribly interesting. I’ve been revisiting many of my old, comfortable favorites from this blog, in addition to recipes that everyone knows and loves from the side panels of various baking ingredients. And there were a few failures that my weepy days just couldn’t handle–Tartine’s Almond Rochers, for one (though I found out I wasn’t the only one that had sucky results with this recipe) and a banana tea cake that was delicious and cooked through but had a bizarre tunnel running through the center of it (I will be retooling this recipe and trying again in the near future as the bold banana flavor and chewy crumb was just too fabulous to abandon it on account of aesthetics).
But I thought today’s baking adventure was successful and blog-worthy, and so here I am to share another recipe from the Tartine cookbook. I feel like I’ve worked my way through enough recipes in this book to give my honest final opinion of it, and to be perfectly honest, it is far from foolproof. The recipes are just not forgiving or sometimes, it seems, terribly accurate. I’m not sure why–perhaps many of the recipes are scaled-down versions of the bakery’s recipes that just didn’t translate well to smaller batches or maybe there just wasn’t enough recipe testing going on by people who hadn’t worked with the recipes hundreds of times before. But I’ve heard I’m not alone in having a few unexplained, really disappointing results from recipes in this book. It seems like most problems are related to the baking times and/or the baking temperatures of the recipes or how many portions you can expect out of a batter or dough. Our oven is barely seven months old and I always double-check the temperature with an oven thermometer when baking, so I know that’s not the problem, and I follow the portioning instructions to the letter, even using my digital scale for accuracy. So I just scratch my head and pout a little and am thankful that the husband will eat nearly everything sweet and baked, even if it looks nothing like it’s supposed to.
The Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal-Walnut Cookies from the Tartine cookbook, however, worked out beautifully. Again, I take issue with the suggested baking time because these cookies go from nowhere near done to a smidge too browned in a nanosecond, but the extra browning didn’t result in a dry, overbaked or disappointing final product. I opted to leave the walnuts out of this recipe, and it worked out just fine–the lacy, delicate landscape of these cookies is just texturized enough with oats and chocolate and the crisp edges offer plenty of crunch, making the nuts truly optional. And beware–although you have to pat these monster cookies into shape a bit, they spread even further while baking, so don’t attempt more than, say, six per baking sheet. You could always portion them much smaller and trim the baking time in half, which I think I’ll do next time. I halved the original recipe with fine results, making one dozen with-child-sized cookies.
Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Tartine
Makes 1 dozen monster-sized cookies
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons molasses
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone liners or parchment paper.
Stir together the flour, oats, baking powder and baking soda and set aside.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with an electric mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and creamy. Slowly rain in the sugar and beat until the mixture is lighter in color and fluffy and then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the molasses until well-combined. Add the egg and beat until everything is incorporated. Scrape down the bowl once more, and then beat in the vanilla, milk and salt. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients until well-mixed. Fold in the chocolate chips by hand.
Portion the dough onto the prepared baking sheets (about 75 grams per cookie if you are a sucker for uniform cookies) using two spoons, leaving plenty of space between each cookie, six per sheet. Moisten your fingertips slightly with water and flatten each cookie evenly, to a diameter of about three inches. Bake for 10-12 minutes, one sheet at a time, rotating halfway through baking, until the cookies have spread considerably and the edges are well-browned and paler towards the centers. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets to allow the cookies to set up a bit before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.
Sidebar: On a very selfish note, if you want to avoid being given more crazy looking socks or self-help books or handbags made of seatbelts or things of this nature and instead get things you’d really want for holidays or your birthday, well, my advice to you is to start a blog about something specific that you love and make sure everyone you know knows about it.
If I had to pick a few favorites out of my holiday gift bunch, they would have to be a totally adorable and Midwestern gift of a crisp, white apron with the name of this blog embroidered on it from my aunt, the Tartine cookbook plus a sparkly, hot pink Le Creuset silicone spatula from my sister, and the long-coveted ice cream attachment for my KitchenAid mixer from my mom and dad. I’ve broken in the first three gifts several times over by now, but had yet to even take the poor ice cream maker out of the box until very recently. And thankfully, when I did finally get the ice cream maker whirring I did it the right way and chose a recipe from David Lebovitz’s practically-perfect-in-every-way ice cream cookbook The Perfect Scoop before I even figured out what a dasher is.
For my first ice cream experiment, I finally settled on the Malted Milk Ice Cream. Now, I hadn’t had malted milk anything in, oh, I don’t know how long, but just reading the recipe had my eyes wide and mouth watering for it and all things malted and milky. I couldn’t wait to whip up a batch of this ice cream; I needed it at that very moment. Unfortunately, ice cream making doesn’t offer instant gratification, and certainly not if you haven’t actually read the ice cream maker’s instructions and tuned into the “freeze the bowl for at least 15 hours before using” part of the equation. Shake fists here.
But I gathered my patience. And I froze bowls and shopped for ingredients (three stores alone just to find malted milk powder, people!) and chilled custard and busted up malted milk balls and waited for the soft, baby ice cream to freeze and firm up into its final delicious form. And all told, it was worth the wait. I mean, I know the unbelievable joy of fresh, house-made ice cream, but when it’s actually made in one’s own house, it really is something else altogether. Like making homemade marshmallows, there is something to be said for making something decadent with one’s own hands (albeit with the aid of kitchen gadgetry) that could be much more easily and quickly obtained from the corner store.
Like I’d heard about all of Lebovitz’s brilliant recipes, the ice cream itself was dense, had a gorgeous texture and indeed seemed like it would live up to the “one perfect scoop” concept (make an ice cream so rich and delicious that one small, perfect scoop is all anyone would ever need). On the flip side, maybe I found this particular ice cream to be a bit too much for even one perfect scoop; it was so full of heavy cream and yolks and sugar and candy that one perfect bite was all I needed at one time.
The sweetness of the ice cream base along with the addition of two cups of crushed candy was a serious sugar rush and approaching cloying territory. I kept musing aloud that I wish it had some salted nuts or something swirled through it to break up the sea of sweet (and even stirred some natural crunchy peanut butter into a small cup of the ice cream at one point–despite the added fat to an already rich situation, it really helped make it more balanced and crave-worthy). As you can tell from this blog’s subject, I don’t fear sugar and so of course I found the ice cream from this recipe to be tasty, but it’s always going to be more of a sweet-salty balance that has me bonkers for a recipe. If I unleashed this ice cream at, say, a birthday party full of six-year-olds, they would make me President of Everything. It’s all a matter of where the taster is at with this level of sweetness.
But the way the recipe steps came together like a symphony and the ice cream itself set up perfectly has me marking several of the book’s recipes for my ice cream making to-do list. For my personal tastes, I might be seeking out the recipes that use whole milk or half and half instead of mostly heavy cream and less egg yolks and sugar from here on out, but I am excited to try more recipes from this book. Even though I wasn’t dying over this recipe, I want to pass it along to you because the ice cream base itself is really delicious and the unique malted milk flavor would pair well with a variety of fruits and other, less sugary add-ins (like I said, it was really dynamite with crunchy, unsweetened natural peanut butter), and will eventually give it another go, maybe using one of Lebovitz’s own add-in recipes in the back of his book instead of the crushed candy.
Malted Milk Ice Cream
From David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
Instead of chasing bits of malted milk balls around your countertops while trying to chop them with a knife, place the candy in a large zip top bag and give it a good bashing with the end of a rolling pin.
1 cup half-and-half
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup malt powder
6 large egg yolks
2 cups malted milk balls, coarsely chopped
In a medium saucepan, warm the half-and-half, sugar, and salt. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, vanilla, and malt powder and set a mesh strainer on top.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and whisk it into the malted milk mixture. Stir until cool over an ice bath.
Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As you remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the chopped malted milk balls. Scrape the ice cream into a freezer-safe container (big enough to hold about 1 1/2 quarts), cover and freeze until firm.
Oh, man. I’m sorry, I’m blogging with my mouth full right now. Anyway, I know I just told you about a recipe that you just have to try, and here I am, pushing another one on you. But trust me, again. This recipe is really, really something. And! It’s from one of my favorite food-world people, the fantastically classy Sara Foster. I’ve never been to her famed market of all things delicious in Durham, North Carolina, but her great cookbooks of Foster’s Market’s favorites certainly make it seem pilgramage-worthy. And one of the most sought-after goodies at her market is the sigh-while-you-chew-them Chocolate Whoppers. If the name isn’t enough to send you running to the kitchen, arms flailing, then there’s something wrong with your soul that you might want to get checked out.
I was reminded of this recipe by a fabulous couple that invited the husband and I over for a delicious dinner this past weekend. They lived in North Carolina for quite some time so they have had the Real Deal Chocolate Whoppers straight from the market, in addition to making them at home using a recipe from one of Sara Foster’s cookbooks. When someone makes a point of telling me about a certain sweet after hearing about this blog, I am always intrigued. Especially when the words chocolate, chewy and gooey are involved. Cut to just a few days later, and I tracked down the recipe and tucked into the kitchen to find out what this Chocolate Whopper business was all about. And boy am I (as is the husband) glad I did.
These gems are the ultimate celebration of big chocolate flavor, chewy midpoint and gooey bullseye, with just enough of a crispness to the edges to give the cookie an incredible sense of varying textures and dimensions as you savor your way through it–like Saturn’s rings for the sweet tooth.
Adapted from Foster’s Market in Durham, North Carolina
Makes one dozen whopper-sized cookies
The original recipe calls for two ounces of chopped unsweetened chocolate instead of making a chocolate “paste” of cocoa powder and vegetable oil, but I happened to have a great quality cocoa powder in my cupboard, so I opted to use the classic substitute for solid unsweetened baking chocolate with great results.
6 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or lightly grease them.
Place the chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 20-30 second intervals, stirring well between each, until a few small chunks of chocolate remain–the residual heat from the bowl will melt the chocolate the rest of the way, and it’s important to not overheat the chocolate. In another small dish, combine the cocoa powder and vegetable oil until a smooth paste forms. Add the chocolate paste and melted butter to the melted semi-sweet chocolate and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Using an electric mixer or a strong, energetic arm and a whisk, beat together the eggs and vanilla. Add the sugar and beat until thick, paler in color and creamy-looking. Add the chocolate mixture and stir until well-blended.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring just until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. The finished batter will look much more like a brownie batter than a cookie dough.
Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheet using a 2 ounce ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, about three inches apart (half a dozen cookies per sheet). Try to be as precise as possible in portioning the batter so the finished cookies are consistent. Bake for 10-12 minutes and do not overbake–the cookies will be very gooey in the center. Cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes and then transfer them onto wire racks to cool completely.
The Almond Cake from Alice Medrich’s fantastic Pure Dessert is a perfect example of what her book is all about–this simple, rustic cake is a true celebration of the earthy flavor of almonds. In trying to figure out how to describe it to you, I’ve decided that the Almond Cake is basically the most excellent Mad Lib of anyone’s dessert dreams–buttery, rich, nutty, incredibly moist, crunchy, crispy, chewy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth–you name it, it’s in there. A slice of this cake works with your 10 a.m. coffee, after dinner, as a sudden sweet bite from the countertop while passing through the kitchen in the middle of the afternoon.
And the flavor–oh, the flavor! Absolutely drunk with almonds. To start, imagine a pumped up, cake version of those crispy, perfectly sweet almond cookies you might get from your favorite Chinese take out place. One of the most interesting things about this cake is that its sweetness comes not just from the sugar in the batter and the smattering of it in the prepared baking pan, but also a different kind of sweetness altogether–a fragrance, really–that is provided by a dose of heady almond extract and the almonds themselves in different forms (ground into flour for the batter and layered in the pan to create a gorgeous crust).
If the promise of amazing flavor and texture isn’t enough, let me tell you that after a bit of mise, this cake comes together in minutes in a blender or food processor. No creaming, folding or alternating wets and dries required, people! You now have no excuse to miss the opportunity to make yourself and loved ones deliriously happy by trying this recipe. Like, now.
Crunchy Almond Cake
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
For the crust:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very soft
Generous 1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
For the cake:
4 ounces whole almonds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, slightly softened
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and set a rack to the lower third of the oven. Generously butter a 9 inch cake pan with 1 tablespoon of very soft unsalted butter–it seems like an insane amount of butter, but you are also creating a crust for the cake here. After the pan is buttered, sprinkle the sliced almonds in a single, even layer over the bottom of the pan and work some of the slices up the sides of the pan as well. Sprinkle two tablespoons of granulated sugar over the butter and almonds and set the prepared pan aside.
To make the cake batter, throw the almonds, sugar, salt and almond extract into a blender or food processor and blend until the nuts are finely ground. Add the eggs and butter, blending throughly. Add the flour and baking powder and blend just until everything is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the cake is a deep golden brown and a tester comes out clean, about 32-35 minutes. Cool cake completely in the pan on a wire rack before sliding a thin knife around the sides of the pan to release it. Turn the cake out onto a serving platter so that the sliced almond-covered bottom becomes the top of the cake. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.
Anyway, even though I showed great restraint and just brought home the one flat of berries, panic set in the next morning after I finished my cereal piled high with fresh strawberry slices–there were still a whole heck of a lotta strawberries in that box. And with every hour that passed, they were expiring. I simply did not have the time nor the inclination to get into jam-making–even though living in California allows us to have gorgeous summer fruits months before what is fair, it just seems wrong to make strawberry jam in April. Unless I wanted waaay too much fiber in my diet over the next couple of days and enough vitamin C to retroactively prevent scurvy for the entire planet, I was going to have to get creative.
So here’s where I get honest with you guys. There was a recipe I worked on that used a lot of strawberries. It was indeed creative, a riff on another recipe that called for the juice of another fruit. And boy, did I have good intentions for it. I mean, swapping out most fruit juices in recipes is usually pretty foolproof. I should say that I will be trying my hand at a Strawberry Chiffon Cake with Strawberry Glaze again sometime in the future, because the experiment wasn’t altogether unfortunate–the cake was a solid chiffon effort, risen beautifully, tender and light and not too sweet, a good balance with the fruity, very sweet glaze.
But because I didn’t want to use any colorings or fruit extracts in the batter, the cake tasted more of the teeny bit of lemon zest that was in it than the heap of strawberries that went into it, and even though the berries were bleeding the most gorgeous shade of red and the puree swirled into the batter looked promising, there was no rosy punch in the finished cake–it had the strangest reddish-gray cast you’ve ever seen. Adding onto that the jammy cooked glaze that was not the firm icing glaze that I was after (although the strawberry flavor was excellent here), and I was bummed–so close, yet so far. And still so many berries left in the box! Punch-kick-sigh.
After that half-hearted result, I wanted a sure thing. Can you blame me? So I did the remaining berries up right, simply slicing them and letting them do their thing, macerating with some fragrant vanilla sugar. And then piling them onto tender sour cream shortcake biscuits with a crown of whipped cream. Heaven. And so yet another lesson learned: when life gives you beautiful strawberries at an insanely good price, let them be themselves and don’t jack up your good fortune by trying to get smart.
Individual Strawberry Shortcakes
Adapted from Nancy Baggett’s All-American Dessert Cookbook
Makes 6-8 individual servings
The amount of sugar tossed with the berries really depends on how sweet they are to begin with. Here, I use the minimum amount suggested by the original recipe. Be careful not to be too stingy with sugaring the berries, though, because the juice they release while macerating will moisten, sweeten and flavor the shortcake.
For the berries:
5 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 cup vanilla sugar or granulated sugar
For the shortcakes:
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for shaping the dough
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Toss the berries with the sugar and and set aside to macerate for at least an hour while preparing the shortcakes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the dry ingredients, and using your fingertips (or a pastry cutter or dump everything into a food processor, but I like using my hands) work the butter and flour mixture together until the butter is incorporated and in very fine bits, like coarse meal.
Add the sour cream to the flour-butter mixture and stir gently, just until the dough comes together. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons flour evenly over the dough and give it 5-6 good kneads to make a smooth dough. Let stand for 1 minute, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and with floured hands, pat the dough into about an 8 inch round. Using a 3 to 3 1/2-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds, punching straight down into the dough without twisting for the most tender biscuits. When you’ve cut out as many as you can from the first round, keep gathering the dough scraps together and recutting biscuits until you’re out of dough.
Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, brush them with a bit of heavy cream and sprinkle them with a bit of sugar. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the shortcakes are risen and golden brown on the tops and bottoms. Cool completely on a wire rack.
To serve the strawberry shortcakes, slice the biscuits across with a serrated knife and place the bottoms on individual serving plates. Pile the berries onto each biscuit bottom, making sure to get a few spoonfuls of the sweet juice soaked into each biscuit. Place the biscuit tops on, and garnish each shortcake with lightly sweetened whipped cream and more berries and juice.
So before my last post, you probably noticed that it had been, um, a
since I last visited with you. And some false starts before that. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that I just straight up lost my baking mojo, people. But happily, it’s all coming back to me now and everything is getting okay. I’ve been so
to be back in kitchen, holed up with a great cookbook or a promising idea, my steadfast and true KitchenAid mixer purring along, not even once giving me grief for being away for so long. We just don’t speak about it.
In this case, the great cookbook that got the mojo working once again was, but of course, the Tartine cookbook. I am lucky to live a healthy walk away from Tartine (healthy enough to offset any guilt, anyway), and every time I glance in the windows while passing by, I just want to hurry home and caress the gorgeous photography and read through the intricate recipes in the cookbook. Like I’ve said before, many of the recipes have so many steps it will just blow your mind, like the Three Day Cake, but there are a few simple beauties in the book that come together more quickly than that favorite cookie recipe you can bake by heart.
The Tartine shortbread recipe is so easy you might wonder if you’ve suddenly taken a wrong page turn into another cookbook. But that’s just the kind of baby step I needed to get back into the kitchen. The simple ingredient list and method yields a shortbread cookie so tender and buttery, it’s practically restorative. Well, it was for me, anyway, because it got me back to tying my apron strings after a long hiatus, and even sparked some extra creative energy, like adding a small pile of finely grated lemon zest to the dough for a little extra somethin’.
Adapted from Tartine
Makes about 40 cookies
The butter should be so soft that it has the look and consistency of mayonnaise or thick whipped cream; this can be quickly achieved by putting the cold butter into a saucepan, melting about a third of it, and then stirring all the butter together to create a very soft result. Create superfine sugar for dusting the shortbread by taking granulated sugar for a spin in your food processor, blender or clean coffee grinder.
1 cup plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (2-3 lemons’ worth)
1/4 cup superfine sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set a rack to the middle position. Butter a 9×13-inch glass baking dish.
Place the butter in a mixing bowl–it must be very soft, think the look and consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Stir the salt into the butter. Sift together the flour and cornstarch. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir the sugar into the butter and then stir in the flour and lemon zest until a smooth dough forms, using your hands towards the end if necessary (run your hands under cold water first to keep from making the dough too warm). Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges and bottom of the shortbread begin to turn golden. Cool on a wire rack until just warm to the touch.
While the shortbread is still warm, sprinkle the surface with superfine sugar, tilting the pan to coat the shortbread evenly with sugar. Tap out any excess that doesn’t cling to the surface. Use a very thin, sharp knife to cut the shortbread into 40 equal cookies. Chill completely in the pan before attempting to remove the cookies with a small offset spatula–the first cookie will be hard to remove, but the rest should come out cleanly.
Hooray! Ahh, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed you!
Now that we’ve settled in San Francisco and have been out of L.A. for a few months, I’m able to selectively remember only the things I love about having lived in Santa Monica. One of those things is the whimsical and utter delight that is Vanilla Bake Shop. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Berman (co-owner along with her husband, how cute is that?!) right before the shop first opened, and boy, is all the hype well deserved. Everything in there is totally inspired and completely delicious, my favorite cupcake being the Meyer Lemon Raspberry. And wouldn’t you know it, this morning I heard Amy is appearing tomorrow on The freakin’ Martha Stewart Show to make Meyer Lemon Raspberry cupcakes with Martha! Too much! The craving hit me full force after seeing the preview. And even though I have my Tivo set to find out what the real recipe is, I am just way too impatient and so I cobbled together my own version today, using some of my favorite components from different recipes.
To me, lemony desserts of all kinds just scream Spring!–like sunny days, tea parties and a smattering of flowy skirts on the sidewalks (okay, so I’m understanding I probably won’t ever see weather consistently balmy enough for flowy skirts here in San Francisco, but whatever). These cupcakes turned out to be the perfect Spring celebration, with my very favorite soft white cake recipe as the base, billowy vanilla buttercream atop, and a filling of just-tangy-enough lemon pastry cream that has a bit more of a dreamy character than Vanilla Bake Shop’s lemon curd filling. Success! I opted to make them pretty Vanilla-style with a layer of pastel yellow sanding sugar, which also adds a nice crunch to the perfectly smooth buttercream beneath. A little cheery button of a fresh raspberry finishes off the cupcake, and you can almost hear it chirping, “I’m too cute to eat!”, but guess what, it’s not. Nom, nom, nom.
Lemon Cream Cupcakes
Makes about 24 cupcakes
If you can find Meyer lemons, absolutely use them in the lemon pastry cream, but regular lemons will work just fine. To use this recipe in a different way, omit the lemon pastry cream and make a classic vanilla cupcake with the cake and frosting recipes, adding a bit of interest to the buttercream with a scraped vanilla bean in addition to the extract. All three elements can be made a day ahead and refrigerated and the cupcakes assembled the day of serving, just set the pastry cream out to soften before using.
For the cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. In a glass measuring cup, combine milk and vanilla. In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Set all three elements aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until soft, creamy and pale in color. Alternately beat in the milk and flour mixtures in three parts, blending well after each addition. Fold in the beaten egg whites at the very end, making sure no traces of whites remain in the batter.
Fill lined cupcake pans 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, when the tops are just set and beginning to turn a light golden brown. Do NOT overbake.
This recipe makes more than you’ll need for 2 dozen cupcakes, but trust me, you’ll find a way to use the leftovers. Like eaten from a spoon straight from the bowl.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 10-12 pieces
Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and set to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk together the lemon juice, eggs, egg yolk, salt and sugar in a stainless steel bowl that just fits into the saucepan without touching the surface of the water. Continue whisking the mixture over the heat until it is thickened and it registers 180 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove it from the heat and cool to about 140 degrees, stirring occasionally to help release the heat.
When the lemon curd is cooled, pour it through a fine sieve to remove any bits of cooked eggs or lemon pulp, using a rubber spatula to coax it through, into a blender (or a clean bowl if using an immersion blender). Blend the butter into the lemon curd, one piece at a time at a low speed until all the butter is completely incorporated.
For the second addition of confectioners’ sugar, use anywhere from 2-4 cups more sugar and add more heavy cream as needed to get the consistency your prefer for buttercream.
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream (perhaps a bit more to adjust the consistency)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and vanilla together until the butter is very soft. Add just 2 cups confectioners’ sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to appear fluffy. Add the rest of the sugar and the heavy cream (adding more sugar and/or cream as desired), and mix on high for another 5 to 7 minutes until the buttercream is whipped, light in texture and shiny.
Use a pairing knife to cut a small cone shape into the center of each cupcake, making a well for the filling, being careful not to cut the wells too deep. Trim a bit of cake from each “cone” to make room for the filling. Fill each cupcake with a small spoonful of the lemon cream and replace the trimmed tops. Alternatively, use a pastry bag to pierce the top of each cupcake and fill them.
Frost the cupcakes with the buttercream. To decorate, coat with colored sanding sugar, add a small dollop of buttercream atop the sugar, and finish with a fresh raspberry.
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