Browsing articles in "Cakes & Cupcakes"
Apr 19, 2011

Glazed Root Beer Float Bundt Cake

Generally speaking, I am a less-is-more sort of person. Unless it comes to pairs of cute, comfortable flats, a most excellent face cream, and the most perfect pen ever created. Or, apparently, Bundt cakes. I don’t know what it is, but man, I’ve got the hots for Bundt cakes. Every time I make one, I’m all, “Why haven’t I committed more of my life to Bundt cakes? This is perfection!”. They are so super easy, so unbeatably moist, they keep for days and days and just keep getting better. Plus, with the pretty pattern of a Bundt pan, all you need a glaze or a little dusting of powdered sugar and BAM!–instant prettycakes. Love it.

But then I recently tried a long-bookmarked recipe for a Root Beer Float Bundt Cake, and let me tell you what. This is some next-level Bundting right here. Cake plus chocolate plus root beer? Oh, hello, One-Way Ticket to Paradise–don’t mind if I do.
So like I said, I’ve had a little Post-it on this recipe from the Baked boys’ first book for oh, approximately 100 years. And just as many times, I’ve intended to remember to buy root beer, but like scheduling a dentist appointment, just plain forgot about the whole thing. However! Recently I happened to be testing another crazy recipe that involved root beer, and in the sort of twist of fate that kind of makes you feel like you’re totally part of the obesity epidemic, happened to have a serious excess of root beer on hand. And Boylan’s too–the good stuff. Root Beer Float Bundt Cake was now officially on the docket.
Oh, and speaking of being part of the epidemic, guess how this recipe starts out? Yeah. Butter chunks and root beer in a pan. Excellent.

The rest of the recipe comes together in a flash, a one-bowl-and-a-whisk deal, the sort of thing I absolutely fall in love with. After a long bake that produces the kind of intoxicating smell that makes you have to chain yourself to something heavy to keep from charging the oven, you top the whole glorious thing off with a chocolaty root beer glaze.

Truthfully, the original recipe calls for a much more ample topping, but I wanted something a bit leaner. And because you know me by now, I don’t mean lean for the benefit of my pants–Lord knows I could’ve taken a bath in that aforementioned saucepan of buttered root beer–but I just feel like all is right with the world when a Bundt cake has a sexy, drippy glaze. So I’ve doctored the topping a bit to get there. After mowing down this cake with its more modest glaze, I can’t even imagine the places this cake might take you to with a fuller fat frosting. It’s just–I can’t–I mean, I’m married, you guys.

Glazed Root Beer Float Bundt Cake

Adapted from Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

If you can, make this cake a day ahead–the root beer flavor really comes out after a day to rest at (cool) room temperature.

Don’t even think of using diet root beer here. Not even for a second. Thanks.

For the cake:
2 cups root beer
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup root beer
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
Position an oven rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees. Spray a 10-inch Bundt pan generously with nonstick cooking spray.
Combine the root beer, cocoa powder and butter in a medium saucepan. Place it over medium heat and warm the mixture, stirring often, until the butter is melted. Whisk in the sugars. Let cool.
In large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl, then whisk them into the cooled root beer-cocoa mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry. The batter will be slightly lumpy, and this is perfectly fine. Don’t overmix the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes (the original recipe says 35-40, but I needed 10 minutes more). Let the cake cool for at least 30 minutes in the pan before gently loosening the sides of the cake from the pan and inverting it onto a wire rack to cool completely (spray the rack lightly with nonstick spray before inverting the cake to prevent it from sticking as it finishes cooling).
To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla and root beer in a medium bowl until well-blended. Whisk in the softened butter until smooth. If necessary, adjust the glaze with more confectioners’ sugar to thicken the glaze or a bit of root beet to thin it–you want it to flow lazily off a spoon–not to runny, but no where near spreadable. Spoon the glaze over the cake and let it drip down the sides. Let the glaze set for 15 minutes or so before serving. This cake keeps covered at room temperature for at least 5 days (and just gets better and better as it sits), or longer if refrigerated.
Apr 5, 2011

Chocolate Truffle Pound Cake

Actual conversation that recently took place in my household:

Me, to Little C: What did you just say?
Little C: I said–I’m a hot mess, Mama. You know, like you!
True story. And such a terrific example of how children of a certain age can make you want to suffocate them with kisses, laugh until you cry and yet simultaneously horrify you. Now, in all fairness, I do often proclaim loudly that I am a hot mess, and everybody knows that toddlers are parrots (and pudgy-knuckled crumb carriers). But that doesn’t give my barely two-and-half-year-old offspring reason to rub it in, right? Also, let it be known that my disorganized shanty of a brain managed to actually pull something genius out the madness in recent days–Chocolate Truffle Pound Cake. Little C shoved half of it in her face almost immediately. Kids, I tell ya. They never give you any credit.

Way back when I shared an heirloom recipe for a much-loved, buttery, golden-crusted pound cake with you, I thought I’d reached the Pound Cake Apex. And in a way, I had. But that was before I thought to make a soft bittersweet chocolate ganache, scoop it into gumball-sized truffles, and then bake them into the pound cake. I know, right?! Next level stuff.

So grab yourself a big, thick slice and a tall glass of milk and enjoy. Marvel at the combination of buttery, fragrant vanilla cake tunneled with melty chocolate truffles. And try to ignore any nearby toddlers who are probably just criticizing you behind your back.

Chocolate Truffle Pound Cake

This is a perfect cake for gifting–it actually gets better in the few days following baking.

Don’t fret about making perfectly round truffles. Some of them will melt in the batter and make their own little chocolate tunnels throughout the cake.
Makes 1 9×5-inch loaf

For the chocolate truffles:

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 60% cacao), chopped

3 tablespoons heavy cream

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (not lowfat)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Begin by making the chocolate truffles. Combine the chocolate and the cream in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring well after each, until the mixture is smooth. Place the bowl in the refrigerator to set until firm, several hours or overnight. If you’re impatient like me, you can speed things up by throwing the bowl in the freezer until set.

When the ganache is firm, use a small scoop (I like a melon baller) to scoop truffles about 1 inch in diameter. Place the truffles on a small parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze again until firm, about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper.

Sift the flour with the salt and baking soda into a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and beat in the eggs one and a time. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and stir in the sour cream and vanilla on low speed. Add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time on low speed until the batter is smooth.

Pour the half the batter into the prepared pan. Drop half the truffles willy-nilly about the surface of the batter, pressing them lightly into the batter, but not submerging them completely. Repeat with the second half of the batter and truffles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (melty chocolate notwithstanding), about 70-80 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes in the pan on a wire rack before using the parchment sleeve to remove the cake from the pan and allowing it to cool completely.

Mar 22, 2011

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

In the past two and a half years, I have made this magnificent recipe for Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting exactly twice. The first time was when I was two weeks postpartum, in a state of incomprehensible exhaustion and its resulting delirium, and could often be found sobbing uncontrollably, vocally questioning why I had decided to have a child. The second time I made this carrot cake was on a recent Sunday following a Little C tantrum so epically demonic, it left me nearly sobbing uncontrollably and certainly questioning why I decided to have a child. You see the connection, yes?

If this unassuming-but-completely-perfect Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting recipe were actually my own, I think I would have to rename it Shauna’s Coping Carrot Cake and enter it in numerous baking contests, simply to spread the gospel of its balming properties. Between now and the day Little C moves outmyhouse, this cake may save me from the asylum. It is my saving grace, my touchstone. You need this cake in your life.

So like most great toddler tantrums do, this one actually began with me doing my child a huge, wonderful flippin’ favor. We had just arrived at the drugstore when Little C’s sparkling brown eyes fell on a small Cinderella doll of reasonable price, and when she asked for it in her tiny voice, even remembering to say please, I agreed. How dear of her to ask so sweetly! How polite! Well.

Fifteen seconds later, my darling little womb fruit also saw a toy cell phone (of which we currently house roughly 12) and when I rejected her request, I think I saw her eyes actually turn red and shoot fire. The scuffed linoleum of the Walgreens floor suddenly began to split open, a great fiery chasm appearing right down that weird aisle that has both tampons and adult diapers, reminding all women of the ticking clock that is their estrogen levels. Dread filled every cell of my messy ponytailed, yoga pants-wearing Mom Body. I had to get out of there, and FAST.

As the screech of a thousand possessed, razor-clawed vultures emitted from my child’s mouth and drew fearful stares from fellow customers, it became clear that whatever demon was setting up camp in her wee torso was immobilizing her. I was left with no choice but to throw her onto my back like a vermin-infested potato sack and leave my purchase of Tylenol 8 Hour (oh, the irony) for another time. (Although I’d like to think that if I’d accidentally shoplifted it in the fury, the Walgreens people would have told me it was on the house.) As for the Cinderella doll that had been merely a gateway to Armageddon, I made the game time decision that “Huh, maybe I shouldn’t reward this type of behavior?” and chucked the offending doll head-first into one of those Lucite bins where they keep all the purse-sized hand sanitizers on the way out.

After narrowly missing getting kicked in the face nearly half a dozen times while securing the tiny, convulsing beast into her carseat, I drove the excruciating 10 minutes home, the windows open to prevent her otherworldly-pitched screams from reverberating throughout the entire vehicle. The sheer volume! The, the intensity, people! In an attempt to reject every natural reaction to such psychotic injustice (read: completely flip out, scream back at toddler, drive off the side of the road), I channeled the Dalai Lama or Jesus or Cesar Millan or whoever, and called upon them all to help me endure the relentless insanity that was unfolding in the backseat.

Upon swinging the car violently into the driveway, I hauled the still-screaming child up the stairs to her very confused father who only got a psychotic mumbled answer of “F@#*&cinderelladolltoycellphone” when he shouted over the din to find out what had happened. Fifteen minutes later, Little C had passed out in her bed Sybil-style, and I was making this carrot cake. Welcome to my world.

And about this carrot cake, anyway. Awesomely enough, it comes together with an ease that oh-so-few things ever do. Your food processor will be your best friend here–you’ll grate the carrots, create an emulsion of your wet ingredients in it, and later, after a quick clean-out of the bowl, pull a dreamy cream cheese frosting together in it. It’s a simply beautiful, quietly spiced, perfectly textured iced sheet cake. Everything plays well with each other here–even the cream cheese frosting, which can so often overwhelm a cake with its richness, just lays calmly in a soft slick atop the cake. I just can’t say enough about it. Especially right now as I sit rubbing my temples, enjoying a hunk in the depths of my dark, quiet closet in lieu of a large glass of bourbon with a straw. I am so tired, you guys.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

This recipe is great halved and baked in an 8×8-inch pan if you don’t need to feed a crowd or stress.

Because they are akin to toddler currency and I always have them on hand, I used baby carrots for this recipe.

Be sure your cream cheese and butter are completely at room temperature before making the icing to get the best consistency.

For the cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I love Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grate nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound (about 6 to 7 medium) carrots, peeled (or an equal amount of baby carrots)
1 1 /2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus a little extra for adjusting the consistency of the icing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.

Fit a food processor with the shredding disk, and shred the carrots into it. Dump the carrots into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Wipe out the bowl of the food processor with a paper towel–don’t worry about getting it perfectly clean.

Place the bowl back on the processor, and place in it the sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. run the processor to blend throughly, about 20 seconds. With the processor running, pour in the oil in a steady stream. Blend 20 seconds more.

Stir together the shredded carrots and flour until evenly mixed, and make a well in the center. Pour in the wet ingredients and stir well with a rubber spatula until the batter is evenly mixed and no lumps of dry ingredients remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and let the cake cool completely, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

When the cake is cool, make the icing. In the clean bowl of a food processor, place the cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Dump in the confectioners’ sugar and process again just until smooth, about 10-15 seconds. Be careful not to overwork the icing, as it will start to break down if blended for too long.

Generously ice the cake, cut into squares and serve. Tightly cover and refrigerate any leftovers.

Nov 19, 2010

Gingerbread Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

Oh, friends. I’ve missed you guys! Sorry to go MIA there for a while, but I have a good reason. And that reason would be that I just finished catering a dessert bar for 200 people. Which meant creating nearly 600 wee pieces of various desserts and confections from scratch, as well as styling the table in such a way that it would be inviting and festive, but still support my personal crusade against the crazymaking TABLESCAPE. It also meant neglecting my child and challenging my husband’s wedding vows. And I will tell you all about it soon because it was a major, Oprah-esque, Life! Chaaaang-iiiiing! experience. But for now I extend to you a peace offering for disappearing on you during high baking season. It involves beer, chocolate and cake. I’m trying real hard to make it up to you, see?

This cake is really something special. The original recipe comes from Sky High, a Bible of celebration cakes that I’ve had on my nightstand more often than not, for pre-bedtime reading. It constantly inspires me, and its recipe for Gingerbread Beer Cake popped out at me like an eager toddler suddenly appearing at mattress level at 6:30 in the morning.

Hi!” this cake said. “Bake me, bake me, bake meeeee! It’s November and I am just so totally perfect right this minute, see?! I’m telling you–I! Am! Awesome! Do you hear me?!” And really, who can argue with that sort of relentless insistence? This recipe was the squeaky wheel of my week, even when I was elbow-deep in filling for 200 teeny-tiny whoopie pies.

Reading the epic ingredient list for this cake–with its dark beer, mounds of chocolate and ground mustard in addition to what might amount to the entire contents of your spice rack–may seem a bit crazy and all too much at first. But believe me when I say that the balance of all the bold flavors here is one of the more magical combinations I’ve baked up all year. For real. And if you’ve got any non-pumpkin pie people coming to your holiday gatherings (towards whom I cast no judgement–ahem, Communists–what?), this cake would absolutely be the perfect counterpoint for the dessert table.

Gingerbread Beer Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Frosting

This cake is a very versatile little number. The original recipe makes a three layer, 8-inch round cake, but I halved the recipe and made a smaller sheet cake of sorts in an 8×8-inch square pan and it was terrific (the baking time was increased by about 15 minutes because a sheet cake will be thicker than the rounds–just keep checking it). I’m betting the original amounts would work as a sheet cake in a 9×13-inch pan, too, for a larger crowd–check out my favorite pan size conversion chart for help. For cupcakes, I’d recommend doing a half cake flour/half all-purpose flour mix to make the cake a little sturdier, because it is a rather light, tender cake.

I used Guinness for my cake and loved the flavor, even though the author said a stout would be too heavy (rebel!). The author recommends a porter. I also used barley malt syrup instead of molasses because it’s what I had on hand, and thought it was perfection–I would make it the same way again. For the spices, don’t be afraid to play with the amouns a tiny bit to suit your tastes, but don’t leave out the ground mustard–the extra bit of crazy really makes for a gentle heat that’s just spectacular.

Makes 1 3-layer, 8-inch round cake

For the cake:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
4 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark beer or porter (see note)
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (or barley malt syrup–see note)
6 tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs

For the frosting:

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Scharffen Berger 70%–go for at least 60% cacao)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Butter the parchment, too.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, mustard, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the beer, molasses (or malt syrup), buttermilk and vanilla.
Set the bowl of dry ingredients on the mixer. On low speed, stir in about two-thirds of the beer mixture and the softened butter. Once all the ingredients are incorporated, crank the speed up to medium and beat until the batter is lightened in color and aerated, about 3 minutes.

With the mixer running, beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the remaining beer mixture. Fold the batter by hand a few times to ensure everything is well-mixed.

Pour the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake the cake layers for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the layers in their pans for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper liners. Allow the cakes to cool completely, at least 1 hour.

To make the frosting, melt together the chocolate and cream (you can do this over a double boiler or in the microwave with 45-seconds bursts of high power). Whisk the chocolate and cream together until smooth. Let the chocolate cool considerably, until it thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is creamy. Scrape in the chocolate and beat again until the frosting is smooth and light, just about 3 minutes. Avoid overbeating, as the frosting may separate.

Place on cake layer flat side up on a serving platter, and tuck strips of parchment just under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean. Dollop 2/3 cup of frosting on the first cake layer and spread evenly, right up to the edges. Repeat with the second layer. Place the third layer on top, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving to allow the frosting to set up a bit. Keep leftovers in a cake keeper at cool room temperature or refrigerate them, letting the cake come to room temperature again before serving.

Oct 17, 2010

Dorie’s Double Apple Bundt Cake

Truth be told, this post was supposed to be about an entirely different recipe. Perfectly delicious, mini dutch apple pies, in fact, using jazzed up store-bought pie crust. But then this lovely Double Apple Bundt Cake happened, and well, pie, schmie. Also, it makes for a wonderful segway into
talking about how I’ve gotten to chat with the ever-inspiring Dorie Greenspan twice in the past week, in person. And I died a little from the wonder of it all both times.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dorie Greenspan, I will resist the urge to shake and judge you and just say this: she is a fantastically talented food, cookbook and recipe writer, and her baking recipes in particular are some of the most phenomenal and fool-proof around. Add to that her homes in Paris and New York City, an unbelievably sweet and warm demeanor, smartly cropped hair and wee spectacles, and you’ve got yourself the sort of woman that you can only dream of growing up to be. She, and her books, are really something.

I first spazzily introduced myself to Dorie nice and early on the first day of BlogHer Food, a forecast of the many inspiring folks to whom I’d have the pleasure of spazzily introducing myself over the course of the weekend. I won’t go into elaborate details about the conference itself, because there are so many fabulous bloggers who have already shared their experiences and told of the general events of the weekend. But because we’re friends, I’ll be honest with you: I sort had mixed feelings about the whole thing. I know! I know. Hear me out.

Here’s the thing: for starters, the upsides were huge, such as the aforementioned face-to-face meeting of other bloggers who constantly inspire me, meeting new friends and the mad knowledge that was dropped at several of the sessions I attended. But the awkward teenage introvert in me quickly discovered a downside–excitedly chatting with so many people I’d never met while crammed body-to-body with hundreds of other excitedly chatting people and somewhat aggressive, product-pushing sponsors was, in a word, crazymaking. Halfway through the first day, I needed a padded room, a nap, a cake and a fork. Come to think of it, this Double Apple Bundt Cake of Dorie’s would’ve knocked out my throbbing social anxiety quite nicely.

After a week of recovery from BlogHer Food, I got a double dose of Dorie at her San Francisco book signing (for her latest treasure Around My French Table–please love yourself a little more by getting a copy ASAP, thank you very much). I spazzily greeted her all over again, and she was every bit as adorable and welcoming as she was in our first meeting as she signed my well-loved copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours. Flipping through it back at home after the signing, I realized that the time was right–nay, perfect–for her Double Apple Bundt Cake.

If you can think of anything more suitably October in feeling than baking a softly spiced, apple-studded, big mama Bundt cake, then I’d really like to know what that is. Because while the cake alone would’ve been enough to make anyone burst with Fall Joy, I also prepared a huge pot of shortribs and vegetables braised in red wine, and the whole thing was just so magically autumnal I could’ve cried right there on the spot. I think Dorie would be proud.

Double Apple Bundt Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

You can really use any kind of apples for this recipe, but the more firm they are, the easier they’ll be to grate. Also, if you opt for a store-bought apple butter, try to find the least sweet of the ones that are available (or, hey, make your own!). My cake came out a little sweeter than I might have liked due to an apple butter that was creeping near cloying, though nobody (but, um, me) complained about the sweetness of the finished cake.

If you’ve got the time (and the willpower), this Bundt is the sort of fabulous cake that tastes when better when left to stand overnight, wrapped well in plastic wrap, before serving.

Makes 12 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup store-bought (or homemade) apple butter, spiced or plain
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup plump, moist raisins (dark or golden)

Optional glaze:

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
about 2 tablespoons lemon juice, orange juice, (or milk or water, whatever you’ve got)

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan, or if yours is not nonstick, butter and flour it, too.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light, fluffy and pale in color, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the bowl again. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the apple butter–don’t worry if the batter looks curdled at this point. Mix in the grated apples. With the mixer still running on low speed, stir in the dry ingredients gradually. When just a few streaks of flour remain, stir in the nuts and raisins. Stop the mixer and give the batter a few folds by hand just to make sure everything’s incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick comes out clean inserted deeply into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10-15 minutes before unmolding it onto the rack to cool completely.

If you want to glaze the cake, stir together the confectioners’ sugar and your liquid of choice, a tiny bit at a time, until the glaze falls easily off the end of a spoon. Place the cake on a serving plate. Drizzle the cake generously with the glaze, letting it drip down the sides of the cake. Alternatively, you can dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. This cake keeps beautifully at room temperature for up to 4 days, or up to 2 months in the freezer.

Sep 12, 2010

Cherry Shortbread Cake Squares

After a crazy two-week blitz of various familial houseguests, I’m happy to say that we are glowing from the enjoyment of lots of great meals (up yours, Calories!), sunny tourist-y outings (Dear San Francisco Weather: thank you for cooperating for once), and hours of laughing so hard that no sound comes out (wine + Taboo + people you’ve known your entire life = OMGAWESOME). Being surrounded by family for so many days is a rare and wonderful thing for us–we are all feeling so loved around here right now, not to mention that Little C finds me especially boring in the aftermath. But with that sort of flurry of activity comes exhaustion of the eye-crossing variety, and the need for insanely simple, but totally comforting and satisfying recipes. I give you Cherry Shortbread Cake Squares. With pie filling from a can. Don’t hate–participate!

I know I’ve told you before about my mom being more of a great creative cook than a baker, but this recipe is one of the few sweet gems she would whip up from time to time. Like her awesome cheesecake that involves Bisquick, this recipe with its canned cherry pie filling may make some upper echelon food people raise an eyebrow. But to them I say, don’t be a jerk. These are amazing.

And unto those food snobs I also say this: If you must, swap out the cherry pie filling for something fresh and seasonal. Like maybe a few slices of the cute little Italian prune plums that are so fleeting and perfect right now. Or gently cook some apple slices with a touch of cider and cinnamon to soften them a bit and use those. But I have to say, when I was tucking these sweet canned cherries and their vibrant, inexplicably satisfying goo into the batter in cheery little threesomes, it made me so flippin’ happy. So I urge you to try that first, before you get all elitist on me. It’s just that good.

However, it sort of doesn’t matter what fruit you use here, because it’s really the tender, buttery cake that’s the star. Dusted with powdered sugar, it’s like a confection meets cake. It makes me die a little just thinking about it. I also die a little when I think about how much walking, drinking and Little C nap-skipping we’ve done in the past two weeks, but that’s neither here nor there.

Cherry Shortbread Cake Squares

I love adding a good dose of lemon extract (or zest) to the batter–the lemon lift goes so fabulously with the cherries. But if you try this recipe with fall or winter fruits, consider omitting the lemon extract and just use a tablespoon of lemon juice to add a bit of dimension without such a forward lemon flavor.

Because I rarely have two weeks worth of houseguests, I tend to halve this recipe and use a quarter-sheet pan (12×9-ish inches) instead of a half-sheet pan and it works beautifully (although you will have leftover pie filling). If you’re making them ahead, dust them with powdered sugar just before serving. These are even better the next day.

Makes 2 dozen 3-inch squares

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (or 1 tablespoon lemon juice–see note)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a half-sheet pan (about 12×17 inches) with a 1-inch rim, or spray it with cooking spray, line it with parchment paper, and lightly spray the parchment, too.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the lemon extract, vanilla and salt. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the bowl. On the lowest speed, stir in the flour. To avoid overbeating, stop mixing when there’s a few streaks of flour left, and finish stirring the batter by hand.

Scrape the batter onto the sheet pan and smooth it into an even layer. Score the batter into 24 squares with a toothpick (don’t worry about perfectly even squares as the lines will disappear during baking; it’s just to make placing the cherries easier). Place 3 cherries in the center of every square.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Just before serving, cut into 24 squares and dust with powdered sugar. Store any leftovers in an airtight container with layers of waxed paper or parchment for up to 3 days.

Aug 15, 2010

My Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake

I know this confession is a risky one, but I think our relationship can withstand such brutal honesty: Despite the chocolate-on-chocolate celebration of my latest posts, I can sort of take or leave chocolate. True story. I mean, I like chocolate, really I do–love working with it and putting it in my face on occasion. Because really, when a chocolate craving hits at certain, ahem, personal times, nothing but chocolate will do (holler if you hear me, ladies). However, I’d never be called a “chocoholic” or be gifted a mug that says something like “Ack! Don’t talk to me before I’ve had my morning chocolate!”, or whatever.

But even so, this here chocolate cupcake was so smack-the-counter good that they’ve become a Real Problem. Which is to say that my typical day of three meals and one dessert has basically inverted for the lifespan of these cupcakes. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve shared the recipe for the chocolate cake with you before–it truly is my go-to recipe that I’ve tweaked and amped up a bit from Martha’s original recipe over the years. Love, love, love it. But the frosting is a new thing entirely, a result of my newfound love and fascination with flour frostings. I needed a chocolate version of this frosting, and I needed it to be a very specific frosting situation. For this part-time chocolate lover, it basically needed to blow my mind with chocolaty perfection, but not be cloyingly rich or overtly decadent like so many other chocolate frostings.

I wanted a cloud of chocolate atop the rich cake and some deranged combination between the flavor of melted chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse and the center of a 3 Musketeers bar. It took a few attempts to get there. But judging by the ferocity and stealth with which I hid the leftovers of this frosting in the depths of my refrigerator, I’d say it was a total success. And the marriage of the cake and the frosting–mmm, mmm! I’d consider converting to Chocoholism for a cupcake like this.

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

I get about 18 cupcakes out of this recipe, but you can stretch it to a full 2 dozen if need be. It also makes two great 9-inch cake layers. Using brewed coffee instead of just water makes the chocolate taste more…chocolatey. You can dissolve 1 teaspoon instant espresso in 3/4 cup hot water instead. Mini chocolate chips melt into the cake to make it extra rich and decadent.

Makes 18-24 cupcakes

For the cake:

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I love Ghiradelli or Valhrona)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee (see note)
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips (or regular chips, chopped fine)

For the chocolate flour frosting:

3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons premium cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Spray the top of the muffin tin with cooking spray for extra non-stick insurance, as these cupcakes can have a serious rise and can puff over the edges of the tin’s wells.

Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat until smooth with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well-mixed. Fold in the mini chocolate chips.

Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (an ice cream scoop works well here), filling each cup no more than 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting: In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, whisk together the flour, milk, cocoa powder and salt until the mixture comes together to form a thick paste. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl, and press a sheet of plastic wrap right on the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Cool in the refrigerator it for about 15 minutes, or until it’s cool to the touch.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the chocolate mixture until the frosting begins to lighten in color and texture, almost mousse-like. Beat in the melted unsweetened chocolate until the frosting is fluffy, smooth and well-blended. Frost cupcakes, and store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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