Now, I’m not going to pretend like you all come to this site wondering what’s going on with my diet and exercise regimen. No, I’m well aware that most people come here looking for cookies. Or cupcakes. Or (YAY!) candy. I don’t blame you. These things make life worth living. But recently I threw a wrench in the whole thing, what with all the posts on juice cleanses and oatmeal-y things for breakfast. And after all that overhauling, I’ve found that maybe dairy and I don’t have the legendary love affair going that I once thought we had. So I’ve been watching the dairy intake. It’s become like a dang commune around here! Outrageous! This must be stopped.
But guess what? It turns out I’ve totally got wi-fi here in my hemp tent, and I have to tell you about these cupcakes I made the other day–moist, sweet, totally scrumptious cupcakes with a cloud of creamy, dreamy frosting. Decidedly the sort of thing that you probably, actually came here for.
EXCEPT THEY’RE VEGAN. Ha! Sucker.
There are really only three things you need to know about this Bananas Foster Coffee Cake:
1. It contains the holy trinity of The Baking B’s*–Bananas, Butter and Booze.
2. If you put the word “coffee” in front of “cake”, then said cake becomes perfectly acceptable for breakfast.
3. Taking into consideration the aforementioned items, you now have a totally legit reason to have liquor first thing in the morning. You’re welcome.
Hahaha! Ohh. You know what I think is just hysterical about parenting? All of the clichés are true. Examples: You discover you can love with an intensity you never thought possible. You find that there lives inside you a fierce, irrationally angry Mama Bear that emerges whenever anyone comes remotely close to messing with your cub. Bodily fluids of all sorts simply won’t be as off-putting as they once were. And then there’s the most sobering realization of them all: Girlfriend, once a small person comes out of you, your body really is never going to be quite the same again. (Foxy bazillionaire celebrity mothers with health and fitness entourages notwithstanding.)
Now. Maybe I could get closer to my pre-baby self if I didn’t make a habit out of making things like this mind-blowing Triple Berry Danish Cheesecake, but I still am completely in love with this recipe anyway. Funnily enough, this cheesecake first came to me a few years back when I was indeed in pre-baby shape, working the counter at a Santa Monica fitness studio where I worked out as a hobby (!!) and got to have adult conversations all day long, sometimes even with those aforementioned foxy bazillionaire celebrity mothers. Pssh. What’s fun about that? Nothing! Right? Lie to me.
If you are one of the five people who read this blog in the early days of Piece of Cake, then maybe you might remember this jazzy little number of a cheesecake, which I first created with apples instead of berries. The recipe was given to me by a Danish friend of mine when I told her I was a baking fiend (quite an eyebrow-raise-inducing statement at a Santa Monica fitness studio, let me tell you). I’m sure there’s some sort of great, Saveur-esque backstory about what makes this cheesecake decidedly Danish, but for me, the thing that immediately comes to mind is that this cake is totally unlike any cheesecake I’ve ever had in my life, and is instead reminiscent of the best part those lovely Danish pastries served at bakeries all over the place.
You know the center of a really great cheese Danish, where it’s at once creamy and sweet and contrasted by that thin layer of buttery cakey-ness underneath? Yeah, it’s like a whoooole cake of that. Rather than your typical graham cracker crust, this drool-inducing dessert starts with a parbaked butter cake, which is covered in fruit and then topped with a cheesecake batter. It’s lemon-scented, bursting with summer berries and altogether transcendent. Like, take-you-to-another-planet-where-you’ll-briefly-forget-about-your-pre-baby-backside-level transcendent.
Triple Berry Danish Cheesecake
For the cake layer:
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
7 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the berry cream cheese layer:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons cornstarch
12 ounces mixed berries (I used raspberries, blackberries and blueberries)
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch springform pan with cooking spray or butter.
Begin by making the cake layer: Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg until well-blended. Reduce the speed the low and stir in the dry ingredients. Stir in the milk and vanilla. Finish folding the batter by hand and spread into the prepared pan. Bake until the edges of the cake are just set, about 15 minutes (the center will still very soft and nowhere near done–we’re just parbaking the cake layer here). Cool for about 5 minutes.
While the cake layer is baking, make the cheesecake layer. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese together with the lemon zest and vanilla on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until lightly and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well-blended. Give the batter a good stirring by hand to ensure that everything is incorporated.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the cornstarch. Add the berries and toss gently to combine. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the parbaked cake layer. Pour the cheesecake batter over the top. Bake until the cake is puffed and lightly golden, and the center is set, 45-50 minutes. Let cool completely, at least 2 hours before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature with a pretty dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
So hey, did I ever tell you about the time I met Betty White? I’m so serious! It was several years ago, before her glorious resurgence of late. I’d watched The Golden Girls obsessively for many years (during its first run, as a young girl unnaturally drawn to observing the lives of aging Miami women, and then again in reruns as part of a post-lunch relaxation ritual during college), so as you might imagine, the meeting was one of the more mind-blowing moments of my years spent in Los Angeles.
The best part about meeting Betty White was that she was exactly as you’d hope Betty White would be—vibrant, chatty, funny, an incredible lively sparkle in her eye—even though I was an absolute stranger to her. Even better, she was even more charming than I’d imagined she’d be in person. It was very hard not to hug her. I’ve had the chance to meet a bunch of fancy, high-profile people over the years that I’d admired for one reason or another, and there’s nothing grosser than meeting someone you’re a fan of and finding out they actually suck. Well, not this time—I left that brief meeting an even bigger Betty fan than before, and was so impressed by her awesomeness that I’m still talking about it years later, even finding a roundabout way to connect it to Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Just hang on a sec—I’ll get there.
So several months back, after the release of their latest book Baked Explorations, I got to meet the positively darling baking superduo of Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito at a book signing event here in San Francisco. And I’d say they would be manically pleased to know that meeting them conjured up Betty White-meeting-level feelings. They are seriously hilarious and adorable and every bit as entertaining and warm-hearted as their cookbooks. Thank God.
I mean, after my multiple gushings about the guys and their terrific recipes, I’d probably have required therapy had they been unenjoyable in person. But within five minutes of their presentation at their signing at Omnivore Books, not only had they cracked the whole place up with their Odd Couple-esque banter, but they also dropped mad knowledge, such as the fact that Cher, Liberace and Vincent Price all have published cookbooks at some point. Who knew? The Baked boys, that’s who. Quirk and humor are as important to their books and their business as bold flavors and dreamy textures and I totally love them for it.
Since falling in love with those Baked boys all over again, I’ve read their latest cookbook cover to cover and bookmarked it like mad within days of receiving it, but until recently, I’d had yet to actually bake anything from it. I know. As it turns out, being up to your eyeballs in sugar for your own little cookbook will throw such kinks in your best-laid baking plans. But on a recent foggy Sunday, I was so drawn to this simple, soulful cake (no electric mixer required!), I had to make it happen. Because, hello—chocolate chips and cream cheese frosting, people.
The great thing about this cake is how fantastically versatile it is. Its earthy oat flavor and nubbly crumb plays so fantastically with the chocolate bits and sweet cream cheese frosting, it’s perfect for a weekend/eat-straight-from-the counter-by-the-hunk sort of situation. But it would be lovely in elegant slices for company (dusted prettily with a smidge of cocoa powder as you see here) or even made into a layer cake for a birthday or somesuch. Like a mimosa-soaked brunch with Betty White and the Baked boys in attendance, you really can’t go wrong here. And with that last sentence, I think I’ve created my new mental Happy Place.
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented
This recipe includes the genius step of tossing the chocolate chips in a bit of liquor and then tossing them in a bit of flour. It gives a touch of great flavor to the cake and also keeps the chips from all sinking to the bottom of the cake. They recommend bourbon or Scotch, but I’m thinking Frangelico, dark rum, Kahlua or Grand Marnier would also be awesome. If I didn’t have any booze on hand (unlikely), I’d probably just use a touch of water to moisten the chips and get the flour to adhere.
For the cake:
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon bourbon, Scotch or other complimentary liquor (see note)
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup rolled oats (not steel cut or quick-cooking)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups boiling water
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the cream cheese frosting:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
5 1/2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
In a small bowl, toss the chocolate chips with the liquor, then with 2 tablespoons of flour to evenly coat the chips. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, place the oats and butter. Pour the boiling water over the top. Allow to sit for about 30 seconds, then stir until the butter has melted. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir in the cooled oatmeal until well-combined. Fold in the remaining flour, followed by the the chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toohtpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour.
To make the frosting, beat together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla just until combined. Spread on the cooled cake. Chill the cake for about 15 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.
I debated about telling you about this, but I’m just gonna put it all out there, people. The Piece of Cake kitchen (which is to say ME) has been on a diet. Like, an honest-to-God, excruciatingly boring, buckets of salad, no-sugar diet. Today is Day 9. Perhaps you can guess by my counting of the days that said diet has not been fun. You would be correct in guessing that. Congratulations. Take yourself out for the ice cream that I can’t have.
So I’m going hard core just for the next couple weeks, all protein and vegetables and sparkling water like a psycho Bravo Network housewife. The goal is to reduce sugar cravings (or at least get them somewhere near a non-epidemic level) and not bleed corn syrup when I cut myself shaving. After that, I’ll gradually start getting back to healthy levels of dessert consumption (read: maybe not, oh, say, five flippin’ times per day). Truthfully, despite being waaay out of my comfort zone, I am feeling a whole lot better already. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start throwing brownies made with black beans and Splenda or some other crazy talk at you. Evidence: a perfectly lovely Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake. Or, as I like to call it, The Last Dessert before all this no-sugar diet nonsense started.
For your own sense of well-being, I really, really hope strawberries are as glorious where you are as they are in California right now. And if you are in California, can I get a HECK YEAH? Glittering cartons of berries are spilling over in the supermarkets right now, and if you head out to some of the smaller towns, you’ll find tons of the kind of charming little ramshackle roadside fruit stands that food magazine dreams are made of. The berries taste like candy, they smell like flowers, they are absolute perfection straight up on their own.
But because I am who I am (never mind that I’m snacking on bell pepper strips, for the love of God), I feel like the thing Mother Nature intended for us to do with a pile of perfect in-season strawberries is to bake them into a tender buttermilk cake. Add a sweet-salty caramel to the mix to make those berries all glossy and jammy and OH MY GOD I WOULD KILL SOMEONE FOR A PIECE OF THIS CAKE RIGHT NOW.
Deep breath. This too, shall pass. Now go bake this cake and eat the whole thing and don’t tell me about it.
Strawberry Buttermilk Upside-Down Cake
Although this cake will keep nicely in a cake dome for a few days at room temperature, it’s best eaten the day it’s made. Serve with some unsweetened whipped cream and die of summer happiness.
If you haven’t noticed, I’ll just throw it out there–I’m on a lemon kick, people. Maybe it’s because we’re nearing “summer” here in San Francisco, which really means we’re just around the corner from an endless June Gloom and I’m trying to inject as much sunshine into my life as possible. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been so on another planet lately that I keep buying lemons every time I go to the store, thinking I don’t have any, and really, I already have, like, 11 rolling around in the refrigerator door. I’ll let you decide.
Anyway, in addition to the overabundance of lemons over here, I also recently scored an exorbitant amount of organic blueberries at a nearly criminal price. I also am perennially in love with white chocolate, because I’ve got a thing for the underdog. And so it came to be on a recent afternoon–Lemon, Blueberry and White Chocolate Cupcakes.
Looking back on Ye Olde Piece of Cake archives, I am shockingly low on blueberry recipes around here. It’s a shame, really. When you get them at just the right time of year, they are little juicy orbs from heaven. And thankfully, a quick rinse is all they require before consumption. I am grateful for such simplicity, since Little C recently has decided to develop a sort of Life Rider which rivals J-Lo’s backstage version. The child has serious fruit preferences. If I have to drop everything to hull and quarter another strawberry, I might scream. Blueberries, I Love You.
If you’re the popular type of person who gets invited to summer gatherings of all sorts, I can’t think of another dessert that would be quite so perfect for bringing along. Bursts of sunshine in cupcake form, I’m telling you.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
Zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped bar or chips
1/2 cup half and half (whole milk works, too)
6 ounces blueberries
5 large egg whites
For the frosting:
2 sticks butter
6 ounces cream cheese
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
4 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled
Position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners, 12 in one and 6 in the other.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. When it’s just warm to the touch, stir it into the butter mixture on low speed, just until combined–it may separate a bit, but it will come back together. With the mixer on low, alternate adding the flour mixture and the half and half in three batches until well-blended.
Toss the blueberries with about a teaspoon of all-purpose flour in a small bowl, just to coat the berries with a light dusting of flour. Set aside.
With a handheld mixer and a medium bowl or in a clean stand mixer bowl with the whip attachment, whip the egg whites on medium high speed until they reach firm peaks, 2-3 minutes. Stir about a third of the whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the remainder of the whites. When the egg whites are almost incorporated, fold in the blueberries.
Fill the muffin cups no more than 3/4 of the way full with the batter. Bake one tin at a time until a toothpick just comes out clean, about 22-25 minutes. Invert the cupcakes onto a cooling rack, then turn them right side up and let them cool completely.
For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer beat together the butter and cream cheese just until smooth. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and lemon juice. Finally, beat in the melted white chocolate, just to combine. Beat in a few drops of food coloring for a creamy yellow hue, if you wish. When the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost them generously.
So I know my last post also had a little something to do with chocolate and peanut butter. This clearly reveals my OCD tendencies (note the two recipe posts before this chocolate and peanut butter explosion were both lemon-related–I was having a lemon moment, people). But hey, we’re friends, I can reveal such things. Like how I’m the sort of person who will get hooked on a particular combination of ingredients from the Whole Foods salad bar and I will go back to the same Whole Foods to assemble said salad every single day for, like, five days straight and I’ll feel fantastic about it. Or I will settle on a certain pants and top combination that just feels so right that I will do a teeny load of laundry every night just to wear the same outfit for many days in a row. Not very green of me, I suppose, but I tell myself that having the magical outfit be clean on sequential days cancels out the crazy. So.
Anyway, let’s not talk about my weird eating and dressing habits. Let’s talk about how Fathers’ Day is coming up and boy, you’d better come up with something good this year. May I recommend these very masculine whoopie pies, for instance?
There’s just something so Dad-ish about the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, AMIRITE? It’s just so very solid and substantial and dude-ish. And given the fact that the husband nearly ate them all when I made them should tell you something. This would be a good time to
brag mention that the husband is also THE BEST father I’ve ever, ever seen. Like really, truly. He is kind but firm, endlessly entertaining, infinitely more patient with Little C than I. Plus, he is easily the hottest dad at the playground at all times. Besides his excellent fathering, he also eats at least one serving of everything I bake, but when boyfriend plows through a batch of something like he did with these whoopie pies, I know I’ve really hit on the sort of thing that can only begin to reward him for fighting the good fight of fatherhood the way he so tirelessly does.
So if you’ve got a dad or dad figure like this in your life, whip up some dang good whoopie pies for the guy. Or hey, while you’re here and all, why not check out a few more recipes that also make for spectacular homespun gifts for deserving dudes?
Chubby Hubby Brownies
Best Cocoa Brownies
Chocolate Malt Marshmallows
Gingerbread Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting
Glazed Root Beer Float Bundt Cake
Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Cherries and Pecans
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
To make the most decadent whoopie pies, use the darkest, richest cocoa powder you can get your hands on for the cakes. For the creamiest, most addictive filling, I prefer commercial peanut butters here (like Skippy). These can be made a day ahead—just refrigerate them in an airtight container and bring them back to room temperature before serving.
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