Browsing articles in "Cakes & Cupcakes"
Apr 25, 2010

Classic Whoopie Pies

The time has come. Completely ridiculous words have begun to take over our household. And I’m not just talking about Little C’s streaming toddler babble (“Hi! Hello? Apple? Mamadadababy! Toes! No?”). I’m talking about the random words that her parents haphazardly stick into sentences in place of more, shall we say, inflammatory terms, in the hopes of avoiding crass truck driver-parroting by said toddler. Like the day I informed my husband that I’d “scrubbed the–pajamas outta the shower”. A new low of parental dorkery, friends.

The day is fast approaching when I won’t be able to say that I really hate something because it’s basically stupid, and instead I’ll say that I “don’t like it very much” and it’s “silly”. If I ever get to using the word “whoopee” in The Newlywed Game sense, someone please send me out to pasture. Unless, of course, we’re talking about these totally kick-ass Whoopie Pies, in which case no language will be barred, I don’t care what sweet, impressionable, jeans-clinging tiny person is in my midst.

After meeting the greatness that is Rose Levy Beranbaum a couple weeks ago and getting a shiny new copy of her Heavenly Cakes book (just announced as IACP’s Cookbook of the Year, hooray!) signed and in my hot little hands, I started flipping and bookmarking that very night. And the recipes are, of course, at an insane level of creative genius. Most of them are, in a word, complex. So until Little C starts preschool, I’m probably going to stick to a few of the simpler recipes in this book, like these Whoopie Pies–rich, dense, deeply chocolatey cakey cookies sandwiching the most silky, perfect vanilla buttercream I’ve ever had. To die for, basically.

But because we’re friends, I’ll tell you that as far as Whoopie Pies go, the process to make them isn’t the simplest of all the recipes out there. This is RLB we’re talking about, after all. However, I will also say that they are totally, completely worth it, thank God. The cake part of the recipe actually comes together fairly quickly, and the double hit of dark chocolate makes for the kind of fudgy batter that you’ll want to spoon right from the bowl.

And the buttercream filling? Oh mah gah. This filling is one of Rose’s signature “mousseline” buttercreams, and it does not disappoint. And in her new book, she’s made the process a bit simpler for those of us who don’t have eight hands. Hooray!

The combination is nothing short of heavenly. With a tall, cold glass of milk, you’re really going to need to watch your language.

Whoopie Pies
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Rose’s Heavenly Cakes

The original recipe stated that it would create 6 filled pies, but I easily got 8 out of my batches of batter and filling. The recipe also called for bringing the sugar syrup all the way to firm ball stage (248-250 degrees) before removing it from the heat, and the first time I followed this instruction, the syrup had cooled and mostly soldered itself to the measuring cup before I could get it into the meringue. I found that bringing it to a warm soft ball stage instead (238) worked much better and the end result was still great.

There are a lot of steps here, which I’ve condensed quite a bit from the original recipe. Read it carefully before you begin and try to choreograph the process in your head in the way that will work best for you before you begin.

If you don’t own smaller ice cream scoops, this recipe would be the perfect excuse to go buy a 2 tablespoon scoop–it makes portioning out the batter and filling evenly a breeze.

Makes 8 whoopie pies

For the cakes:

1 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (60-62% cacao–I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips and it was fine)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool room temperature
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour (sift first, then measure)
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

For the filling:

1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
1 large egg white, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoons cream of tartar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees. Line two unrimmed baking sheets (or invert two rimmed half-sheet pans) with parchment paper or silicone baking mats, or spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water or in a microwave at 50% power, stirring every 30 seconds. Let cool until the chocolate is no longer warm to the touch, but still fluid.

While the chocolate is cooling, place the brown sugar, egg, oil and butter in the bowl of an eletrci mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat at medium speed for about 5 minutes–the mixture will become smooth and paler in color. Reduce the speed to low and stir in the melted chocolate.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture in three additions on low speed, alternating with the buttermilk, beating just until each addition begins to disappear into the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With a 1-ounce (2 tablespoons) ice cream scoop, portion the batter onto the sheets, 8 evenly spaced mounds per sheet.

Bake one sheet at a time, rotating halfway through baking, until the centers spring back when lightly touched, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on the sheet on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes before transferring the cakes to the rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container until ready to fill.

To make the filling, begin by making the sugar syrup. Combine the sugar, corn syrup and water in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, cook until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Reduce the heat to low and move on to making the meringue (if you’re using an electric range, remove the pan from the heat completely).

In a mixing bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the egg white on high speed until foamy with tiny, relatively uniform bubbles. Add the cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form when the beaters are lifted.

Return to the sugar syrup and increase the heat to high. Boil until the syrup reaches 238-240 degrees. To make pouring easier, transfer the syrup to a heatproof measuring cup if you wish.

Beat the syrup into the meringue in a thin, steady stream, aiming away from the beaters so that the syrup doesn’t just spin onto the sides of the bowl. Beat until the outside of the bowl no longer feels hot, about 3 minutes. Beat in 1 tablespoon of the butter and the vanilla extract or paste. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while you make the finishing cream for the filling.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and confectioners’ sugar. Beat on high for 2 minutes or until the mixture is very light in texture and color, almost white. Lower the speed to medium and beat in all the meringue until the buttercream is smooth, about 10 seconds or so.

To assemble, sandwich generous 2-tablespoon mounds of the filling between the cakes, and press down lightly so that the cream reaches the edges of the pies. Serve at room temperature and store any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container, allowing them to come to room temperature again before serving.

Apr 7, 2010

Little Lime Cupcakes

Ahhh, Spring. In like an infuriatingly schizophrenic lion, out like a lamb. I don’t know what it’s been like where you live, but until this completely bizarre San Francisco weather is finished finding itself like an emo-tastic teenager, I’m just going to camp out in the living room Spring Break-style in a lawn chair with a Corona and a cute little lime cupcake. You can’t stop me.

There’s just something about lime that feels like Spring, isn’t there? It could be the thoroughly awesome way that it pairs with so many great boozy drinks, like, oh, say, the ones I downed when I was young and unafraid and blowing off afternoon college classes in May to join impromptu parties on the porches of dilapidated, likely condemnable off-campus bungalows in Central Illinois. If loving lime in that form is wrong, then Lordy loo, I sure don’t want to be right.

But I also love lime in desserts, and you know, I just don’t think the poor lime gets enough props in the dessert world. When people think citrus desserts, they often go straight for the sure thing, the lemon. Not that there’s anything unlovable about lemon–it’s perfect, really. But lime pops, utterly green and fresh and sharp. And when its zest is sprinkled into cake batter and its juice is made into a zippy soaking syrup, it’s the perfect thing to boost a batch of wee cupcakes into an instant Springtime party, no booze required. Though if you decide to serve them with shots of tequila, well, I certainly wouldn’t fault you for that. That would be the pot calling the kettle black, now wouldn’t it? Hiccup.

Little Lime Cupcakes

You can absolutely make these into 18 full-sized cupcakes–just double the lime syrup and put about 2 teaspoons on each, or more if you really want your cupcakes zippy, and multiply the frosting by 1.5 times. I generously frosted my cupcakes, as you can see in the photos, but if you like less icing on yours, you can probably get away with halving the frosting for minis and keeping it as is for full-sized cupcakes. Increase the baking time to 22-25 minutes for big cupcakes.

Makes about 4 dozen

For the cupcakes:

2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature

For the lime syrup:

1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons water

For the frosting:

1 12-ounce bag white chocolate chips
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Place an oven rack to the center position and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line mini muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together, the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and lime zest. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and turn the mixer on low. With the mixer running, gradually drop in the butter pieces and mix until the texture is uniform and the bits of butter aren’t discernable, about 2 minutes. With the mixer still on low, begin slowly pouring in the wet ingredients. When all the wet ingredients have been added, crank the speed up to medium and mix until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Portion the batter into the muffin tins (a scant tablespoon in each liner) and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched, 10-12 minutes. Let cool in the pans for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are baking, make the lime syrup: In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, lime juice and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Boil until the sugar is dissolved, and the syrup is clear and slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Set aside to cool.

Make the white chocolate cream cheese frosting: Slowly melt the white chocolate chips, either in a microwave safe bowl at 50% power in the microwave in 45 seconds intervals, stirring after each interval, or over a double boiler. Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for a minute on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in the melted white chocolate until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary.

When the cupcakes have cooled, prick each one deeply with a fork about 4-5 times. Carefully spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of syrup over each cake. Allow the syrup to soak into the cakes for about 10 minutes, then frost and decorate as desired. Refrigerate any leftover cupcakes for up to 3 days.

Mar 19, 2010

My Favorite Cheesecake

In the spirit of busting through more deep, life-altering questions (such as “Is a brownie made without melted chocolate really a brownie?” and “Are baked doughnuts really doughnuts?“), I bring you two more doozies. First, is a cheesecake without a graham cracker crust actually a cheesecake? And second, will you all brutally force me into solitary confinement to a terrifying windowless cell festooned with Sandra Lee-designed tablescapes if I tell you that my very favorite cheesecake is not only crustless, but contains Bisquick?

Well, dear readers, I have answers to these new questions. To the first I say unto you, abso-flippin’-lutely, it is EVER a cheesecake!, and about the Bisquick, don’t hate–participate!

Like I recently said about my beloved homemade marshmallows, I sort of can’t believe I’ve never told you about this cheesecake before. This cheesecake has been with me for my entire life. As in, it is my earliest memory of dessert. So since babyhood, this cheesecake and I have known each other. And while others may track their personal timelines in terms of annual family vacations or grades in school, I tend to remember flavors of birthday cakes and what kind of cookies I made for Christmas in a given year. This cheesecake is my Book of Genesis, people. I am very serious about this cheesecake.

It is also an important recipe because it is one of the very few things my mother ever baked. Which is not to say that my mother is no longer with us–she is very much still with us and I have to fight her off with a stick ever since giving birth to her first grandchild. My mom is an excellent cook, the intuitive type that rarely cooks with recipes, and can make a meal out of any random combination of items that you may have in your pantry right this minute. But my mom has never been much of a baker–it’s just not her thing. However, there are two things that I remember her baking when I was little, and one of them was this cheesecake.

Back in the late 70s/early 80s, General Mills released a gloriously kitschy slew of sweet and savory pie recipes called “Impossible Pies” that were all the rage. And my mom, being on the cutting edge of all things trendy, like Jazzercising, shoulder pads and hair perming, fully embraced the Impossible Pie. The basic idea was that a master list of ingredients (including milk and Bisquick) plus a few various additions could all be thrown into a blender and poured into a bare baking dish, and during baking a sort of thin “crust” would magically form on the top, bottom and sides of the pie, no pre-formed crust required. Impossible, you say? Exactly. Except it’s true! Magic!

My mom confirms her famous cheesecake recipe is a riff on Bisquick’s “Impossible Cheesecake”, but she eliminated the milk and cut down significantly on the Bisquick, which really makes the cream cheese the star, and added a punch of lemon that truly makes the whole thing shine. She also always used an electric hand mixer instead of a blender, which incorporates a bit more air into the batter. The whole thing takes less than 10 minutes to get into the oven. No fussy water bath or springform pannery involved. It’s a beautiful thing.

Even if you are a die-hard cheesecake fanatic who scoffs at anything without a graham cracker crust being called a cheesecake, I don’t think you can deny that this particular cheesecake is absolutely delicious–tangy, creamy, not too sweet, a perfect balance of richness and light. The killer is the slick of sour cream topping. Oh mah gah. It’s a two-slicer situation. Get excited.

Mom’s Cheesecake

Use Philadelphia brand cream cheese, for this recipe and all other recipes calling for cream cheese. It’s actually the standard brand that most recipes use in testing because it’s the creamiest and has the least water content of any brand out there. Spend the extra buck for the good stuff–it absolutely makes a difference. And yes, you can use light cream cheese and light sour cream and it will still be completely edible, but don’t do fat-free anything, please, I beg of you.

Serves 8-10

For the cake:

2 8-ounce packages Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Bisquick baking mix

For the sour cream topping:

8 ounces sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch ceramic or glass pie plate with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, place the cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, lemon juice, sugar and Bisquick. Start mixing on low speed with an electric mixer until everything is incorporated, then raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 3 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake until the cheesecake is slightly puffed and golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes (it will deflate a bit during this time).

Meanwhile, make the topping: stir together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla until well-blended. Pour over the warm cheesecake and smooth with a small spatula. Refrigerate until chilled and set, at least 2 hours, before serving. Cover any leftovers tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Feb 9, 2010

Caramel Cupcakes

Woo-hoo! Thanks for all the well wishes and shout-outs about that half marathon business I told you about the other day. The race itself was a success. I had wanted to finish in under 2:15, and made it in 2:05, so I’m really happy with that. For once, I didn’t hurt anything, and I only cried three times (from joy, not misery)–at the start, crossing the finishing line, at the halfway point when I saw my friends, mom and husband cheering like crazy people as I passed, with my Little Coach C perched high up on her daddy’s shoulders. Waaahhhhh. It was a great experience all around. I highly recommend running more miles than is really necessary with several thousand other insane people before lunchtime.

And then shoving caramel cupcakes into your face when you’re done.

This combination is nothing short of dynamite, people. Now, I like a chocolate something as much as the next guy–when the chocolate craving hits, don’t get in my way because I will cut you. But at any other time, whether my sweet tooth is already awake or not, I am a sucker for all things vanilla and/or caramel. At a cupcakery, I will always go for the vanilla cake/vanilla frosting combination first. I feel like you can always tell how good a bakery really is by their vanilla cake and icing–with such a pure, uncomplicated flavoring, the quality of the ingredients and technique can’t hide. I’ve been forever searching for the magical recipe that would become my go-to vanilla cake in the Piece of Cake kitchen. And guys, my epiphany has arrived in the form of this completely perfect Vanilla Buttermilk Cake.

It’s just so lovely and balanced, all things considered. Perfectly tender. Moist but not sticky. Light but not preciously so. A velvety, tight crumb, but not at all dense. And thanks to the buttermilk, the level of sweetness is so right on and the notes of the vanilla are heightened.

The not-too-sweet cake also creates the perfect canvas for toppings of all sorts, from traditional buttercreams to more sugar-heavy icings that might cause your molars to ache on a sweeter cake, like my great grandmother Ruth Enzenbacher’s other-worldly caramel icing. All hail the dark brown sugar gods, this whole thing just got real.

Now, my memories of my great grandmother, who passed away when I was about 7, are fuzzy at best. I do remember her halo of silver white hair, soft cheeks and totally impressive salt and pepper shaker collection. But if this icing recipe of hers is any indication of who she really was, then I can also add to the list of character traits no-nonsense and the ability to turn out something showstopping out of the most humble ingredients. This icing comes together in less than five minutes on the stove top with a wooden spoon, just butter, sugar and a touch of milk and salt–it’s a beautiful thing.

But don’t let the easy prep fool you here–this caramel icing waits for no one (I am not sure if this was also true of my great grandmother). It may come together in minutes, but you have seconds to work with it before it sets up. Which is why I have no photo of the icing technique for you, which involved forgoing a spatula and instead dipping the tops of the cakes in the hot icing with a quick swirl before flipping them upright. I sort of felt like I was rescuing children from a burning building while icing these cupcakes–“Go, go, go!”–but the faster you can work, the more evenly glossy and gorgeous the icing sets up.

However, the fury of icing the cupcakes was totally worth it in the end. I cannot tell you how delicious the results were. Just like the madness of working up to the half marathon and then rocking it so hard. And can I just say how much I love it when I’m writing and a dorky metaphor just sort of falls in my lap like that?

Caramel Cupcakes
(Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Caramel Icing)
Cake recipe adapted from Sky High

Make sure the cupcakes are completely cooled, cold even, before icing them. If they are the slightest bit warm, they will tear when you turn them over to dip them in the hot icing. If the icing begins to harden while you are working with it, just set it over a medium flame and stir it for 30 seconds or so until it loosens up again.

Makes about 18 iced cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature

For the caramel icing:

1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into a few chunks
Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Place an oven rack to the center position and preheat the it to 350 degrees. Line 18 cups of 2 muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together, the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and turn the mixer on low. With the mixer running, gradually drop in the butter pieces and mix until the texture is uniform and the bits of butter aren’t discernable, about 2 minutes. With the mixer still on low, begin slowly pouring in the wet ingredients. When all the wet ingredients have been added, crank the speed up to medium and mix until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Portion the batter into the muffin tins and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the tops spring back when lightly touched, 20-25 minutes. Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then transfer them to a a wire rack to cool completely.

When the cupcakes have cooled, make the icing. Put the dark brown sugar, butter and salt in a medium saucepan, and melt them together over medium heat, stirring often. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the milk and vanilla. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dump in the confectioners’ sugar all at once and beat with a wooden spoon until the icing is thickened and smooth. Quickly ice the cupcakes by holding each by the base and dipping the tops in the hot icing, rolling them slightly to coat evenly. Turn them quickly upright so the icing will even out while it’s still warm and will set smoothly. Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Feb 2, 2010

Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake

You guys.




Clearly, there is nothing else to say, except THIS CAKE IS STUPID DELICIOUS.

The recipe for this behemoth of a baked good I like to call a Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt cake is from a charming little bake shop in Los Angeles called Buttercake Bakery. Remember when I told you about my recent sippy cup-free weekend down in LA and how Sara and I got into some serious cupcake sampling? Well, one of the bakeries we stumbled into was Buttercake, and as luck would have it, the owner Logan was there that day and naturally, Sara is friends with her. (If you ever go somewhere with Sara, you will find this is often the case.)

Anyway, this isn’t the kind of place where you’ll find crazy novelty flavors like Green Tea Yuzu buttercream or giant celebration cakes draped with wacky shades of fondant and loaded with dynamite. No, this place is all about turning out comfort desserts like those fantastic signature recipes of churchgoing Southern women and then doing them one better.

Take this completely insane cake, for example. If you are in search of an absolute celebration of butter and chocolate, well, then, my friend, I think we’ve arrived at your personal Mecca. The batter for this cake is like a lighter version of a pound cake, rich with butter and vanilla, craveworthy all by its lonesome. And that’s before you fold in the chocolate chips. Oh, no, you heard me right. And. And!

Then you take out some of the chocolate chip-studded batter and whisk into it in an obscenely chocolatey syrup that gets all swirled into the mix and bakes up like fudgy brownie cake tunneling through the whole thing. If I was anymore serious I would be a heart attack, people. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

The resulting cake is the sort of baked good that comes up every once in a great while here in the Piece of Cake kitchen, which is to say that I had a major crisis of conscience upon tasting it. Half of me wanted to disappear into a dark corner of the garage with the cake stand and a fork so I could mow the whole thing in private. The other half knew I shouldn’t hide this light under a bushel–a Bundt cake epiphany as glorious as this was meant to be shared with the world. In the end, I gave a nod to the latter, swiftly lopping off half the cake for my husband’s office, leaving a mere half the cake for me to have my way with while doing the former. But you do what you want.

Chocolate Chip Marble Bundt Cake
Adapted from Buttercake Bakery and the Los Angeles Times

Use the butter wrappers to grease the pan before dusting it with flour. And as much as you’ll want to devour this cake ASAP after baking, give it a couple hours to really cool and rest out of the pan before serving–the flavor and texture is well worth the wait. This cake stays extraordinarily moist for days on end kept in a cake dome at room temperature.

Serves 12 to 16

2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
2 2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli)

In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar, the cocoa powder and corn syrup with 1/2 cup hot water. Bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Set aside.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the remaining sugar until light in color and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the remaining vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in a third of the flour mixture just until the flour begins to disappear into the batter. Beat in half the milk. Beat in another third of the flour, then the rest of the milk, and finish with the remaining flour until the batter is smooth. Stop the mixer and gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Scoop out a third of the batter into a medium bowl, whisk in the chocolate syrup and set aside. Pour another third of the batter into the prepared bundt pan and smooth it with a spatula. Pour the chocolate batter into the pan evenly over the first layer. Finish by pouring the last third of the vanilla batter over the top. Lightly swirl the batters with a wooden skewer or knife to give a “marble” effect–a continuous figure-8 motion while going around the pan works well.

Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back lightly when touched, about 60-70 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Invert the cooled cake onto a serving platter and dust lightly with powdered sugar before serving if desired. Store any leftovers in a cake dome at room temperature for 4-5 days, maybe more.

Jan 25, 2010

Blueberry Boy Bait

I am at a bit of a parenting crossroads with Little C. We’ve reached that point where she is clearly no longer a baby, but she’s not yet a full-fledged little girl (wasn’t there a Britney song about this?). She is so tuned in to everything I do, wanting to get in on all the action and has started mimicking me in the most unexpected ways. Basically this means that I have got to stop dropping F-bombs. Also, she has started “helping me” when I bake. And recently I pulled up a chair to boost her sweet little face up to counter level while I put together some Blueberry Boy Bait, a recipe so simple, you can pull it together with a tiny person clinging to your sleeve.

This buttery, tender cake, studded with teeny blueberries and covered with a shattery cinnamon-sugar crust, is my kind of thing. Technically, it is a cake, but since it’s like the most awesome blueberry muffin you’ve ever had in slab form, it’s more quick bread in feeling. And this means you can brunch it, snack it, or dessert it, and in all cases you’ll love it.

Now before you get all up in my grill about making a blueberry recipe in January, let me tell you that this recipe actually calls for frozen berries. Hooray! I love frozen berries of all sorts. This is not to say that anything can replace the experience of a flat of strawberries in July–let’s not be crazy. But frozen berries are fabulous because they’re picked and frozen at their peak, and are awesomely consistent in quality. Plus, you can’t beat the price. Not that I know a dang thing about economy. But I do know that I am in pink-puffy-heart LOVE with Wyman’s of Maine frozen wild blueberries. They explode in your mouth like sweet, bitty berry caviar and I covet them. And apparently I am not the only one, as per my sous chef.

And because I am a food history geek and love tidbits of culinary trivia, Blueberry Boy Bait first made an appearance in the junior division of a Pillsbury baking contest in 1954. The girl who invented it was only 15! Can you imagine being that young and fabulous and being able to BAKE? Girlfriend probably didn’t need to come up with a specific cake to lure the boys in, I’m sure. Like I plan on telling Little C, she just has to be her fantastic, talented self and the boys will all be beating down our door to date her. Too bad her father won’t be answering said door until she is 25.

Blueberry Boy Bait
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Be sure to look for wild blueberries, the tiny ones, not the bigger regular ones–you’ll get better results with wild. I halved this recipe in an 8-inch square pan and it worked out perfectly. As you’re sprinkling on the cinnamon and sugar you may think to yourself, “Dang! This is way too much cinnamon and sugar!”, but press on and sprinkle on the whole lot of it. You will be rewarded with a crackly, shattering sheet of cinnamon-sugar topping in the end.

Makes 1 9×13-inch cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup frozen wild blueberries
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and line it with a sheet of parchment paper with a few inches of overhang on two sides. Spray the parchment, too.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar and all the brown sugar on medium speed until lightened in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape downt he bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, letting each one incorporate fully before adding the next.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the flour, mixing just until the flour begins to disappear. Add the milk, mixing to incorporate. Add the rest of the flour and mix until there are a few streaks of flour left in the batter. Fold in the rest by hand with a large rubber spatula until the batter is smooth.

Remove the blueberries from the freezer and divide in half. Place half the berries in a small bowl and toss with 1/ 2 teaspoon flour. Mix the floured berries into the batter and spread the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the rest of the berries on top of the batter. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the cake from the pan using the parchment sleeve and cut into squares. Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Jan 18, 2010

Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake

It’s high citrus season, people! I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it! (Name that movie).

Okay, so maybe not everyone is as enthralled with the abundance of adorable little clementines, fragrant Meyer lemons and vibrant blood oranges as I am, but guys, it’s getting towards the end of January. The winter blues could take any of us down at any time.

Even in San Francisco, where all four seasons just sort of smear into each other without a whole lot of meterological drama, it’s all kinds of dreary in January. So let’s focus on the positive. Citrus galore! And a zippy, big mama Clementine Chiffon Cake is just the thing to bring a little sunshine into your life during this time of year.

I lurve chiffon cakes. They’re the sort of thing that make you feel incredibly accomplished in the kitchen. They emerge from the oven tall and proud and commanding, a great candidate for getting all gussied up with a whole myriad of flavorings, syrups and sauces. Unlike her more elegant, prettier and popular sister the angel food cake (which can be so delicate that you have to tread lightly when trying to jazz her up) the chiffon cake scoffs at her frilly name, and with her richer texture courtesy of added egg yolks and vegetable oil offers a fabulous canvas for all sorts of bells and whistles, like a zingy orange glaze that soaks just enough into the epidermis of the cake to make things interesting.

And this cake couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d just done that thing where I’d bought the huge box of clementines from the market for, like, five bucks or something crazy, with the noble intention of snacking on them in lieu of, say, cake. But really, how many clementines can you snack on before you just need a slice of flippin’ cake?! Oh, the irony. Luckily it took an almost comical number of clementines to yield enough juice for this recipe, which got that pesky healthy snacking monkey off my back right quick.

Some people spaz out about recipes like chiffon cakes and their egg foam cake counterparts, like angel food cakes and sponge cakes. All that egg white whipping and folding just seems too precious and risky. But really, if you have a reliable electric mixer, you’re well on your way to chiffon cake success. And even though you do want to take care to whip the egg whites to the proper stage (firm peaks, but not at all dry) and whisk them in gently as to not knock out all the air, the beauty of a chiffon cake is that it can be roughed up a bit while getting the batter together and all won’t be lost.

And even if your chiffon cake doesn’t rise quite as much as you’d hoped, or falls a bit while cooling or if you louse it up at the eleventh hour by, say, inverting the cake onto a plate that suctions itself to the beautiful golden crust, stripping off whole sections of it when you turn it back onto the cake stand, well, don’t worry about it for a second. Because the so-lovely-its-practically-drinkable clementine glaze that douses this cake has such fabulous flavor and adds so much moisture that none of that will matter in the end. This cake perserveres. Just like winter-weary folks.

Glazed Clementine Chiffon Cake
Adapted from The All-American Dessert Book

If you don’t have clementines, fret not. Any kind of sweet, orange-y citrus will do: navel oranges, tangerines, satsumas, tangelos, what have you. Whenever a recipe calls for zest, like this one, I like to seek out organic fruit just so I don’t have to worry about scraping a whole lot of pesticides into the mix.

Serves 12

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups unsifted cake flour
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated clementine zest
2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed and strained clementine juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Have ready a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.

In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, 2/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in one large bowl and 5 of the yolks in another (use the remaining yolk for another purpose). Whisk together the yolks, oil, clementine zest, lemon zest, clementine juice and vanilla until well-blended. Gradually whisk the flour mixture into the yolk mixture just until it’s smoothly incorporated. Set aside.

Add the lemon juice to the egg whites. With an electric mixer, begin beating the egg whites on low speed, them raise the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until soft peaks begin to form. Add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar to the whites as they are whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar is incorporated, raise the speed to high and whip for 1 to 3 minutes more, until the whites hold firm peaks that still have a moist appearance–do not overbeat or they will be very difficult to incorporate. Whisk about a third of the whites into the yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites, stopping at soon as there are no streaks of white left in the batter.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Bake until a cake tester in the thickest part comes out clean, about 30 to 40 minutes. Immediately invert the cake onto a wire rack, or a countertop if the pan has feet, and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run a thin knife along the edges of the pan to release the cake. Cover a large plate with a sheet of plastic wrap and spray it lightly with cooking spray to prevent the top of the cake from sticking, and invert the cake onto the plate before turning the cake back onto a final serving platter or cake stand. Tuck strips of parchment paper under the cake to protect the platter from wayward glaze.

To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, clementine juice and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Let the glaze stand until it cools and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Slowly pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. This cake keeps well at room temperature in a covered cake dome for up to 3 days.

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