Browsing articles in "Cakes & Cupcakes"
Jan 5, 2010

New York-Style Crumb Cake

At 16 months, my sweet Baby C has officially been upgraded to Little C. Although with the way this girl is trucking through pant lengths (I cringe on the playground–I swear I’m not trying to make my kid look like a hapless geek with highwaters on purpose, people! They fit fine yesterday!) we may have to come up with another nickname. Anyway, she’s already developing her own particular brand of logic like all little kids do, funny ways of getting from point A to point B that leave us highly intelligent, efficient grown-up types chuckling and shaking our heads, because, you know, we’re so smart and all that we don’t need to invent gimmicks to complete a task.

Like how I got all seven years old with myself other day, pretending I had been recruited to an Olympic Tiny Dough Ball-Rolling Team in order to get through the incredibly arduous, albeit delicious result-yielding, task of making the topping for this really great crumb cake. I hope you’re happy with it. I did it for you.

So as I’ve said before, I am totally obsessed with PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen. It appeals to my detail-loving, Type A side. Recipes from this show and its cookbooks rarely fail, if ever, and if they do, you can be pretty sure that it’s you that sucks, never the recipe. I like that. I can appreciate the authority of an ATK recipe, even if I know that it will probably never involve the easiest way of getting to a finished product. So I went into this crumb cake with the knowledge that one of the steps would take some time. The kind of time that allows you to contemplate big, Oprah-esque Life Questions while rolling tiny dough balls, like, Hmmm, whatever happened to that turquoise v-neck sweater? I really liked that sweater! I need to figure out where that thing went. The sleeves were the perfect length. 

But happily, the rest of this cake is actually really easy–basic, even–and the end result is certainly worth the trouble.

That cranky, needy, relentless bowl of hand-formed pebble-sized crumbs bakes up into a fantastically thick layer of crunchy-yet-tender edible cobblestones, like a blanket of little brown sugar shortbread cookies. And underneath is a dense, moist, buttery cake, rich with vanilla. It’s reminiscent of the mile-high crumb cakes you’ll find in old world, family-owned bakeries, the kind of thing that just feels so nice with a cup of coffee.

You really can’t go wrong with this cake. It’s the perfect kind of All-Day Cake to keep on the counter–a piece with breakfast, a bit with afternoon tea, a little extra sliver after dinner, etc. And if you have kids around that aren’t of the age where everything, regardless of origin, is deemed fit for eating, then their curious little hands will be perfect candidates for forming the crumb topping for you. Just tell them they could be an Olympic medalist if they do it fast enough! It worked on me, anyway.

New York-Style Crumb Cake
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 12

For the crumb topping:

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour

For the cake:

1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Set an oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and line it with a strip of parchment paper or aluminum foil that is just shy of the width of the dish and long enough to overhang the sides of the dish. Spray the parchment paper with nonstick spray as well.

In a medium bowl, stir together all the ingredients for the crumb topping until they form a smooth dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the cake.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the cake flour, sugar, baking soda and salt at low speed. With the mixer running on low, add the butter chunks one at a time, letting each one incorporate into the dry ingredients before adding another. When the mixture resembles even, moist crumbs, add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and buttermilk, and increase the speed to medium. Beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Break apart the crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces, rolling them slightly in between your fingertips to get them to hold their shape. Spread the crumbs in even layer over the batter. Bake until the crumbs are golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Lift the cake out of the pan using the parchment handles. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

Oct 27, 2009

Aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake

I’m a sucker for a good heirloom recipe. In fact, I’d venture to say that if I were a Hilton or a Rockefeller or somesuch, I would be apt to say something like, “Forget the jewels and the inheritance, Grandmummy, what I really would like is the family chef’s recipe box!”. I should note that I go to these extremes in my mind because a) I’ve always kind of wanted to be a socialite and b) because my own family doesn’t really have a whole lot of heirloom recipes to speak of. But that didn’t stop me from trying to pry a few out of my Gramma the last time we got to visit with each other out in Denver this past August–she’s always been quite the baker when she gets around to it. You’ve really never had a better sugar cookie in your life. I am very serious about this claim.

Anyway, I’d only been back in San Francisco for a day or two before a cheery card from Gram showed up in my mailbox, stuffed thick with handwritten recipe cards for some of her favorite desserts (doesn’t she have the loveliest handwriting you’ve EVER seen?). I was unnaturally excited by all of this–it was the stuff that schmaltzy food blog entries are made of. But I’ll spare you all of that and just say that within the hour of opening that envelope, I was cranking up the oven and baking up my great aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake.

Aunt Phyllis was my Grampa’s sister, from the Foropoulos side (Greek, much?) of the family. Most of this branch of the family live in and around Memphis, Tennesee, so I’ve never really known any of them very well, just from stories that my mom and aunts would tell or a few fuzzy memories from when they’d come up to visit us Yankees in Chicago when I was really little. I do know I have a second cousin down there who is about my age and who has always had a freaky resemblance to me. And now I also know that I really should have been going down there to visit more often if these people are turning out baked goods as fantastic as this pound cake.

Now, I know what you’re thinking–um, pound cake? Snore. But! Before you click-click away from this post to find something that involves chocolate or cream cheese and is generally more food porny, let me make a case here. First, you can never really try enough pound cake recipes. Everyone should have a no-fail favorite pound cake in their repertoire. Because with a good pound cake as your foundation, you dessert options are seriously limitless. It’s the chicken of the dessert world.

Secondly, and maybe this is one of those things I should keep to myself, but I always sort of marvel with childlike amazement at how many different results can come out of the simple combination of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, which is what every pound cake is based upon. Whether you settle on this one being your very favorite ever or not, every recipe you try helps you figure out what your idea of pound cake perfection is. Are you after super moist? Buttery? Eggy? Dense? Light and airy? Almost chewy? Crust, no crust? Have I blown your mind with how much their is to consider with the humble pound cake, here, people?

This particular recipe, as you may have guessed from the name, is of the buttery, crusty variety. It’s basically the most awesome kind of pound cake, because the buttery flavor and crunch of the crust make it interesting and delicious enough to stand on its own, but it’s not so absurdly moist and dense that its overkill to add some fruit, chocolate sauce, a syrupy coulis or ice cream (or hey, maybe all of those things–I won’t tell if you won’t).

The light and fluffy batter, with its fabulous use of cake flour instead of all-purpose and a good dose of sour cream, gives you a clue as to how tender this cake is, but don’t let it trick you into thinking that it’s at all precious–this is a sturdy, no-nonsense cake. Bake sale material of the highest order, I’m telling you. It also is the perfect blank canvas on which to put your own twist–cinnamon sugar, citrus zest, a scrape of a vanilla bean, chocolate chips, berries of all sorts–very little would ruin this workhorse of a cake. Double the recipe, freeze one cake to “have one on hand” and feel like a champion of domestication–you’ll be searching for ways to use it up before you know it.

Aunt Phyllis’s Crusty Butter Pound Cake

I’ve reworked this recipe a bit–note that it calls for the flour to be spooned into the cup and then leveled. The original recipe makes one large cake in a Bundt pan or angel food cake pan, but you can also divide the batter and bake it in two standard loaf pans (or halve the recipe for one loaf). I recommend making the full recipe in two loaf pans because this cake freezes beautifully. So bake one and freeze one–you won’t regret it.

Makes 1 large Bundt cake, or 2 9x5x3 inch loaves

3 cups cake flour, spooned and leveled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup sour cream (not lowfat)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan, angel food cake pan, or two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.

Sift the flour, then sift it again with the salt and baking soda. The easiest way to do this is to first sift the flour onto a large sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil, set the sifter over a large bowl, then use the sheet to help pour the flour back into the sifter. Add the salt and baking soda to the flour in the sifter, then sift all the dry ingredients together into the 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 batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 90 minutes for a Bundt-size cake, and about 60-70 minutes for loaf pans. Cool completely in the pans on a wire rack before inverting and slicing.

Sep 21, 2009

Strawberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Okay people, I’ve been trying, really I have, but there really is no way to explain the surreal time warp that was my first year of parenting. So full of challenges and successes and failures and giddy celebration of the smallest things. Life has truly taken on a meaning I never knew existed. This, of course is not a revelation unique to me; millions and millions of other crazy people who have decided to become parents know exactly what I’m talking about. And to you, fellow crazy people, I offer you a cold beer held high and one of Baby C’s wholly delicious birthday cupcakes–a tender strawberry cake enlivened with a sassy strawberry coulis and white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

While I baked up a couple dozen of these heavenly cupcakes for a lively party to celebrate our sweet Baby C’s first year of life (and by extension, one year of parental survival), I really couldn’t help but marvel at the juxtaposition of the passage of time during Year One. For example, the months it took for our darling daughter to sleep through the night (nine of them, people–feel for me a little, won’t you?) made it seem like the first year would never, ever end, and some of those days seemed like such a bizarre blur of sameness that I felt (and let’s face it, looked) an awful lot like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

And yet, the leaps and bounds by which our daughter grew each day during this first year have created a staggering sense of jetting through time. Literally there were mornings where we picked her up out of her crib, looked her in the face and could have sworn that she had a completely different face from when we tucked her in the night before. That sort of thing is as astonishing as the insane amount of joy she brings us.

Oh, and the joy! A kind of spontaneous happiness that seems to flood me at the most unexpected moments; a feeling that puts me on maternal autopilot, so that no matter how frazzled I am, I can’t keep from dropping whatever I’m doing to smooch her chubby little cheeks and squeeze her tight, desperately hoping that she’ll somehow never grow out of my arms. Man, I wish someone could invent a way to bottle that feeling. Because that is what’s It’s really all about.

At one year old, it is also becoming clear what kind of child we have been given. I can’t mince words here, people. Girlfriend is basically a star. Her nickname in our weekly playgroup is Little Hollywood. This is not a joke. She would dramatically outstretch her arms and smile brightly on cue when someone would say “ta-daaa!” long before the whole “How big is baby? Soooo big!” act ever took hold.
She is endlessly curious, a true extrovert (when naps are a bust, we must go out–keeping my cranky child away from her public only exacerbates the situation), and a lover of music. She’s quite the dancer and a singer already too–eyes closed, chin jutting out, sustained falsetto notes, Mariah-esque hand movements–it’s fabulous.

Given her flair for the dramatic and the way she positively blossoms in a crowd, it was only fitting that we threw a big, loud party with all her little friends in attendance to celebrate her big day. I think she would’ve really let us have it otherwise.

There was a table of dips and chips and bacon-wrapped dates (!!–thanks, Aunt Lauren!) and slow-cooked pork with creamy slaw and a tangy homemade barbecue sauce. And of course, perfectly powder pink cupcakes fit for a first birthday girl. When the lights were dimmed and the birthday song was sung, Baby C lit up as bright as the flickering candles, and dutifully shoved an entire cupcake into her face in short order. It was, in short, an awesome day to celebrate one awesome little kid.

With one year of motherhood under my belt I can honestly say that I never thought I could learn so much, love so much, hope so much. And to my darling baby girl, thank you for making my life so, so sweet. I love you, Bubs.

Strawberry Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes

Makes about 4 dozen frosted cupcakes

First, I’d like you to meet my new go-to cream cheese frosting. Perfection, I tell you. Also, for you party planners: the strawberry puree for the batter and the coulis can be made at the same time, several days in advance. The cupcakes can be baked a day before serving, kept at room temperature in airtight containers. The day of serving, whip up the frosting while you wait for the coulis to soak into the cakes a bit. There will be more spiced strawberry coulis than is needed to brush the cupcakes before icing them, but it thickens nicely in the fridge and is amazing on toast. You could also fill the cupcakes with the thickened coulis rather than brushing it on top, which would be both delicious and frugal of you.

For the strawberry puree and coulis:

1 1/2 pounds frozen unsweetened strawberries, thawed with their juices
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 star anise pod
1 one-inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise

For the strawberry cakes:

4 1/2 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
5 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups strawberry puree
8 egg whites
2/3 cup milk

For the white chocolate cream cheese frosting:

1 pound cream cheese, chilled (do not use reduced fat cream cheese)
6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
6 ounces white chocolate, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
White chocolate sprinkles, and various shades of pink Dum-Dum lollipops (sticks trimmed to about one inch long) for decorating (optional)

Begin by making the strawberry puree: Puree the thawed berries in a blender or food processor until smooth (do not strain the puree)–you should have about 2 3/4 cups. Set aside 1 1/4 cups puree for making the cake batter, and put the remainder into a small saucepan with the sugar. Add the cinnamon stick and the star anise, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the pan, and add the vanilla pod as well. Bring the coulis to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened considerably and reduced by about half (about 3/4 cup). To ensure thickness, dab a teaspoon of the coulis onto a freezing cold plate and set it in the freezer for a minute or two–if you run your fingertip through the coulis, a track should remain. Discard the cinnamon stick, star anise pod and vanilla pod, and scrape the coulis into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Next, make the strawberry cupcakes. Place the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt on low speed for a full 60 seconds. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is well-blended into the dry ingredients and it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the strawberry puree and mix on low to blend, then crank the speed to medium and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the batter is light and fluffy and resembles strawberry ice cream.

In a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the egg whites and milk until very well-blended. With the mixer running, add the liquid to the batter in 2 or 3 additions, stopping the mixer to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Divide half the batter among the muffin cups, filling the tins about 2/3 full. Bake for about 22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the tins on wire racks for about five minutes, then remove the cupcakes to the racks to cool completely. When the tins have cooled, line them with more paper liners and bake the rest of the batter.

To make the white chocolate cream cheese frosting, place the very cold cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Start beating at low speed just to get the ingredients blending, then beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the melted white chocolate and the vanilla and beat on medium speed just to blend–don’t overbeat at this point, or the heat of the mixer will start to break down the cream cheese.

To assemble the cupcakes, thinly spread about half a teaspoon of coulis over the top of each cupcake (alternately, fill the cupcakes with the coulis using a squirt bottle or piping bag). When the coulis has soaked into the surfaces of the cupcakes a bit, frost them generously with the white chocolate cream cheese frosting and gently roll the frosted tops in a plate full of white chocolate sprinkles. Store the frosted and sprinkled cupcakes in airtight containers at a cool room temperature until ready to serve. Add an extra bit of flair with the lollipops just before serving, if desired.

Aug 31, 2009

Peach Melba Cake with Raspberry Cream

Whipped Cream. Fruit. Flowers. Booze. All makings of one crazy sexy hip hop video. And one very lovely birthday cake for an old friend who breezed through town in recent days.

My girl Heather and I go all the way back to high school. We’ve seen each other through unrequited crushes and bad highlights and an inexplicable addiction to ill-fitting flannel (hey, it was 1995, okay?). She’s lived in Atlanta for more than a decade now, and though we haven’t lived in the same city since our high school graduation, we have one of those friendships that picks right back up where we last left off in the time it takes to give a great big, girly-squealing hug. It was so fabulously fun to have her over for dinner a couple weeks ago, and after a feast of a Greek salad/panzanella hybrid and lemon-roasted pork, we celebrated her just-days-away birthday with a frothy confection of a cake, fit for my favorite Georgia Peach.

This cake recipe instantly grabbed my attention because it contains absolutely no butter. And no oil, either. Who-the-what-now? No, seriously! Whipped cream is the foundation of the cake (and the filling, and the frosting). Genius! I had to try it, simply on the basis that the concept pretty much blew my mind.

After whipping a healthy amount of heavy cream to soft peaks, you beat in some sugar, just like you would cream butter and sugar together in so many other cake recipes. Then the eggs are beaten in, followed by the dry ingredients, sifted over and very gently folded into the batter, and just a touch of buttermilk.

When baked, the exterior of the finished cake looks a whole lot like your standard butter cake, but the crumb is quite a bit coarser, uneven and more open. The texture is also considerably drier than that of a butter cake. It sounds less than delicious, I realize. But! There is meaning behind this. The open structure and slightly parched nature allows for plenty of spiked peach syrup to soak into the layers.

As is the norm around the Piece of Cake kitchen lately when making layer cakes, I opted to bake my cake layers and make the fruit purees for the frosting and filling the night before, and then assemble everything the next day. But if you’ve got a chunk of time to work on this cake, it’s easy to efficiently zip through the steps–make the peach mousse filling while the cake is baking and cooling, then make the raspberry cream frosting while filled and layered cake is chilling and setting up. And although there’s still some lovely fresh peaches and raspberries to be found in the markets, I gladly accepted this recipe’s time-saving suggestion of using frozen specimens.

Not only do you not have to wash, peel and slice the fruit, you just can’t beat the consistently bright flavor and brilliant color of frozen fruits. They make for the most stunningly pretty purees and finished frosting and filling for this cake. I challenge you to not eat half the batch of both elements while making them. They are the ultimate in ambrosial spoonability.

And speaking of the frosting and filling, the flavors are out of this world. Obviously it’s really hard to miss the mark with the combination of fruit and whipped cream, but what really makes them pop here is the addition of a few extra flavorings–peach schnapps for the peach mousse and the very interesting addition of rose water for the raspberry cream. A dash of alcohol is the ultimate flavor booster in cooking and baking, and, as alcohol is wont to do, it always livens up the party when fruit is involved in a recipe.

The rose water in the raspberry cream…well, there’s really no other way to describe it except to say that it makes the finished cream taste so, so beautiful. You don’t feel like you’re eating your Grandmother’s perfume or anything–in fact, you won’t even sense the essence of rose unless you really try and taste for it–but it creates a roundness to what would otherwise be a sort of sharp, tangy raspberry note. In other words, the raspberry cream tastes as soft and as pink as it appears, and I love, love, love that about this cake.

Although it’s billowy and dreamy when it’s first made, the raspberry cream isn’t nearly as stable as a trusty buttercream–it makes for a very thin layer on the cake and can’t really be fancifully swirled and reworked a whole lot on the surface of the cake. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to work quickly and have a set design in mind when you start dolloping on the frosting and all will be beautiful. I mean, c’mon! You really can’t go wrong–look at this color! Who needs Red No. 5?

And so I repeat: whipped cream, fruit, flowers, booze. That’s really all you need to know.

Peach Melba Cake with Raspberry Cream
Adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Makes 1 8-inch 3-layer cake

The following recipe has the proportions of the original. I halved this recipe to scale it down to a two layer 6-inch cake, which is the perfect amount for serving a smaller group (say four to six people). I then split the layers in half crosswise to make a cake with four layers of cake and three layers of filling. The cakes can be baked the day before assembly, cooled completely, wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated. The peach syrup and fruit purees for the frosting and filling can also be made the day before; when it’s time for assembly, quickly whip up the two batches of cream for the peach mousse and raspberry cream, fold them into the purees and you’re all set.

To find the rosewater that gives the raspberry cream it’s other-worldly flavor, look in the liquor section of larger supermarkets or specialty grocers.

You’ll notice there’s extra puree in the recipe than what is actually needed to make the frosting and filling. The intention is to use it for garnish. I didn’t bother with garnish and instead stirred mine into yogurt the next day.

For the cake:

1 3/4 cups cake flour
3 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons buttermilk

For the peach syrup:

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup peach schnapps or other peach liqueur

For the peach mousse filling:

1 pound peaches, thawed frozen with juices or peeled and pitted fresh
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
2 tablespoons peach schnapps or other peach liqueur
1 cup heavy cream

For the raspberry cream:

12 ounces unsweetened frozen raspberries, thawed with juices
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment circles and grease the parchment too (butter or cooking spray works fine).

Start by making the cake. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Put the dry ingredients back into the sifter and set aside.

Whip the cream with the vanilla to soft peaks on high speed. Lower the speed to low and gradually beat in the sugar–do not whip until stiff. Beat in the eggs and egg yolks and continue whipping until soft peaks form again.

Sift about a third of the dry ingredients over the batter and fold in by hand with a spatula until well-blended. Repeat twice more. Fold in the buttermilk. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert them onto the cooling racks and peel off the parchment. Cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, first make the peach syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the syrup to about 1/2 a cup. Remove from the heat and stir in the peach liqueur. Set aside to cool.

Next, make the peach mousse filling. Combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice and water in a medium non-reactive saucepan over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to medium low, cooking until the peaches are soft. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (take care as hot liquids like to explode out of blenders). Measure out 1 cup of puree and set aside for garnish. Place the remaining puree in a large bowl.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the 2 tablespoons of liqueuer and let soften for five minutes, then microwave it on high for 10 to 15 seconds, stirring well to make sure it’s completely dissolved. Stir the gelatin into the peach puree in the large bowl.

In a large chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream for the peach filling until stiff. Fold the cream into the peach puree.

Begin assembling the cake. Place on layer upside down on a cake plate covered with strips of parchment to keep the platter clean. Soak with 1/4 cup of the peach syrup, and spread with half the peach mousse filling. Repeat with the second layer, 1/4 cup more syrup and the second half of the filling. Place the final layer on top and the rest of the peach syrup. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate the cake so it can set, about 1 hour.

While the cake is chilling, make the raspberry cream. Place the raspberries and their juices in a medium saucepan over medium low heat, mashing them with a fork until they’ve given up all their juices, about 15 minutes. Let the fruit cool slightly, then puree it in a food processor or blender. Run the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds. Remove 2/3 cup of the puree to another bowl, and reserve for garnish (sweeten to taste with additional sugar before serving). Into the remaining 1/3 cup, stir in the sugar and rosewater until the sugar dissolves.

In a chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream until stiff. Fold the raspberry-rose puree into the whipped cream.

When the filled cake has set, frost with the raspberry cream. Refrigerate cake uncovered for two hours before serving (and up to 8 hours for best results–this cake doesn’t keep well). Serve with the garnish, if desired.

Aug 9, 2009

Lovely Lemon Layer Cake

On my favorite running route, there is an old house that has a huge, neglected lemon tree. It is an absolute crime, I tell you. The branches are always heavy with fruit–the kind of bright, fragrant, thin-skinned lemons that bakers covet. One of these days I am going to break my stride, pound on their door and–panting and flailing my arms in the direction of their insane lemon tree–shout, “What the @#*! is wrong with you?!”. I will also threaten to call the Department of Citrus Protection if they don’t step up and take care of their bounty. I will even encourage them by sharing my favorite lemon dessert recipes, like this lovely lemon layer cake.

From the moment I first saw the recipe, I was on this cake. Delicate white cake, a tart lemon filling and a billowy, marshmallow-like topping? Yes, please. It pretty much dominated my thoughts until I could find the time to work on it. Because in all honesty, this cake is a bit of a Project. That’s not to say the steps are difficult–the cake, filling and frosting are all simple standbys–but each element does take some time. But it had been a while since I’d made a real Wondercake, and it’s easy to plan out your prep for this recipe even if you’ve got obstacles. Like, say, a tiny person who really likes to hang on to your legs as you limp from the stove to the sink. Taking your time putting it together also makes for some delicious antici…pation.

First up is the vibrant lemon curd filling. I am completely enamored with lemon curd as a cake filling. It’s always a great surprise for the eater and basically tastes like sunshine–what’s not to love? Instead of just using the lemon juice and sugar that this recipe called for, I added an extra punch of flavor by working the zest of one of the lemons into the sugar with a mortar and pestle. Incidentally, they need to make a scratch-n-sniff sticker that smells like a kitchen in which someone is making lemon sugar.
After the sugar is sufficiently lemon-nized, it’s blended with fresh lemon juice, egg yolks and butter until it gets so gorgeous and thick and glossy, you can trace a path through it with a spatula. Oh, my. Sieve it and chill it for a few hours, a perfect window to bake and cool the cake (it can also be made a couple days ahead).
And then there’s the cake. The white cake that hugs the luscious lemon filling is the ultimate cake dichotomy–a sweet, delicate vanilla flavor and a light, tender crumb, yet incredibly sturdy for layering. This is thanks to a batter with a two-stage mixing method, which I love because once you get the hang of this method, the results are fabulously consistent. Unlike cakes that start with creaming the butter and sugar together, a two-stage cake starts by mixing the butter right into the dry ingredients, until it resembles fine crumbs.

After the butter is so well-incorporated you can hardly discern any bits of it, a whisked-together mixture of the eggs and milk and vanilla gets drizzled into the spinning batter. The batter for this cake is so velvety, it’s hard not to sigh at the beauty of it all. Oh, I do so love a vanilla cake batter. It is the very definition of dreamy.

When the cake layers have baked and cooled completely and the filling has chilled for a few hours, the real fun begins. I always love assembling a layer cake. I like to pretend I’m a Real Live Pastry Chef, with a charming little bake shop decorated in pink and white and bits of damask, with a big copper espresso machine behind the counter and acres of stainless steel workspace in the back room…what, huh? Oh, yeah, no I’m here. Sorry. Um, anyway.Start by slicing each layer in half. Admire the beautiful crumb and snowy white interior of this cake.

Give your lemon filling a good stir. It will be much firmer than a regular lemon curd–the addition of a bit of gelatin gives it excellent structure and helps it sit prettily between the cake layers and not ooze all over and into the frosting.

Now we get to some layering action. Place one cake layer (golden side down) on a serving platter. Tuck a few strips of parchment paper under the edges to keep the plate nice and clean while you pretend to be a Real Live Pastry Chef. Spread a third of the filling evenly over the layer, leaving the outer edge of the cake bare.

Repeat with another cake layer (again, golden side down), applying just a bit of pressure so the layers adhere, and then spread on another third of the filling.

I’m pretty sure you know what to do next. You are quick!
Now for the final layer, place it golden side UP. Pulled a fast one on ya, didn’t I? I like to use the bottom half of one of the layers for this step, so that the top of the cake is nice and even.

Some might call this next step optional, but I don’t think so. Use your impeccably clean index finger to swipe up any wayward lemon curd. I think you can guess what the next natural step is after that. Slurp.

And now comes my favorite part of cake making–the prettifying via a gorgeous frosting. Those that follow the goings-on of the Piece of Cake kitchen know there was a recent victory that involved a smackdown with Seven-Minute Frosting. And this cake was the impetus for said victory. Let’s revel in that sweet success one more time, shall we? Ahhhh.

I don’t really see any other way to use a heavenly, cloud-like frosting than en masse. So just go on ahead and pile it on, sister.
I am so glad that my relationship with Seven-Minute Frosting has completely turned a corner because a) I hate being belittled by icing b) it is really delicious and c) it is a dream to work with. You can giddily swoop and swirl this frosting for hours and the only thing that will snap you out of your fanciful ways is your husband demanding to know if that crazy cake is ready yet.

“Um, yeah, almost!” Swoop, swirl, giggle, giggle, swirl.

And here she is. A debutante of the cake world. The kind of cake that everyone should have in their repertoire. Light, whimisical, ooh and ahh-inspiring, it is the ultimate cake for celebrations of all kinds. Even if you’re just celebrating something like making it through another week with an 11-month-old. Or successfully stealing armfuls of contraband lemons from your neighbor’s totally neglected lemon tree.

I kid! But I totally should.

Lemon Layer Cake


Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen


Makes 1 9-inch, 4-layer cake


With the cake and lemon filling recipes cut in half, this recipe makes one adorable 6-inch cake, perfect for serving 4 to 6. If you opt to make a smaller version of this cake, still make the full frosting recipe–you’ll have a generously frosted cake with a bit left over, but the frosting just doesn’t whip as well with smaller proportions. Trust me on this. The filling can be prepared two days ahead, and the cake can be made a day ahead of assembly–just cool the layers completely, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Make the frosting just before putting the cake together.


For the filling:
Zest from two lemons
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 6 lemons)
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
6 large egg yolks (reserve whites for the cake)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen


For the cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened but still cool



Begin by preparing the filling: Measure 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top to soften. With a mortar and pestle or with your fingertips in a small bowl, work the lemon zest into the sugar until the sugar is fragrant and evenly moistened with the oils from the zest.Heat the rest of the lemon juice, the lemon sugar, and salt in a medium non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot but not bubbling. Whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks in a large, non-reactive bowl. Slowly whisk the lemon syrup into the eggs, then return the mixture to the saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook the curd, stirring constantly, until it reaches 170 degrees and it’s thick enough to draw a trail through it with a spatula. Stir in the softened gelatin until completely dissolved.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the frozen butter until the butter has melted and the curd is smooth. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into a non-reactive bowl. Cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least four hours or up to two days.

To make the cake, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg whites and vanilla. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt at low speed. With the mixer running on low speed, add the butter pieces one at a time until the mixture resembles fine, even crumbs. Stop the mixer and add all but about 1/2 cup of the wet ingredients. Beat the batter at medium speed until it is pale and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in the rest of the wet ingredients, then crank the speed back up to medium and beat for 30 seconds more. Scrape down the bowl and beat for 30 more seconds.

Divide the batter equally among the two cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean–do not overbake. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans, peel off the parchment and cool completely, right side up.

When the filling has chilled and the cake layers are cool, begin assembling the cake. Slice the cake layers in half horizontally. Place one layer golden side down on a serving platter, and tuck a few strips of parchment paper under the edges of the cake to protect the platter. Spread a third of the lemon filling on the cake layer, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge of the cake. Repeat twice more with cake layers and filling. Place the top layer of the cake golden side up. Frost with Fluffy White Icing. This cake is best served as soon as possible, but the finished cake can be covered with a cake dome and refrigerated up to one day before serving.

Jul 20, 2009

Roasted Cherry Clafoutis

Nearly 11 months into parenthood, and I have to say, we are on a roll over here, people. One of the biggest things for me has been balancing being on-call around the clock as a mother with carving out time to do things that keep me feeling like myself–leafing through cookbooks, puttering in the kitchen, writing, running some miles. It makes me feel alive, like seeing in Technicolor after months of sleepily trying to wade through the days and figure out this new life. And somehow it seems I’ve arrived in this new place as a bolder, brighter, sweeter version of myself, like a pile of peak-of-season cherries, sugared and zested with lemon and roasted until they glisten.

I suppose others might celebrate such great strides in personal growth with oh, say, a mini-vacation somewhere with a breezy coastline, a spa day or an extended happy hour somewhere fabulous. But since I already live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, have an awesomely huge bathtub in our new place and much prefer getting drunk at home, I hightailed it to the farmers’ market to snap up some succulent Bing cherries that called–nay, begged–to be tucked into a pillowy cherry clafoutis.

If you like really getting your hands dirty in the kitchen, then you’ll love this recipe. See, traditional clafoutis recipes call for the pits to stay in the cherries, because supposedly the pits lend a distinct almond-like flavor to dish. But since I prefer my desserts without a side of dental work, I opted for a recipe that calls for pitted cherries and a splash of almond extract instead. The pitting took some doing, but I rigged up a pitting station with a fondue fork and a beer bottle in the kitchen sink, and with The Splendid Table on the radio, it was actually kind of hypnotic, enjoyable work, listening to the cheery clink! of the pits hitting the inside of the bottle. Note to self: get out more.

After the cherries are free of their pits, they get all seasoned up with sugar, cinnamon and lemon, and head into the oven for a quick roast that transforms them into a more nectarous version of themselves, giving off intense, ambrosial juices that can be reduced to a syrup for serving with the finished dish.

If you can keep yourself from plucking the hot cherries off the baking sheet and snarfing them all right when they come out of the oven, then they’ll get doused in a simple crepe-like batter, which bakes up into a puffed, golden cloak that gently hugs the fruit.

Clafoutis is a crazy simple dish, and this interpretation is especially flavorful. If you’re feeling particularly lazy as of late or find yourself longing for a taste of summer in the dead of winter, a bag of already pitted, frozen unsweetened cherries would work pretty well in this recipe. But with fresh cherries at their peak around here, I can’t think of a better way to enjoy them while they can still be snapped up on the cheap. I think it makes a glorious summer dessert, but since it involves fruit and a pancake-like batter, cherry clafoutis is also a totally legit shoo-in for The Best Breakfast of Your Entire Life. “Enabling” is my middle name.

Care to share other ways you’ve been savoring the cherry bounty this summer?

Roasted Cherry Clafoutis
Adapted from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook

To cut down on prep time or to enjoy this dish when cherry season is oh-so-far away, a bag of frozen, unsweetened cherries (usually labeled “dark, sweet cherries”) can be thawed, drained and used in place of fresh cherries in this recipe. Taste the cherries before seasoning them for roasting–I cut the sugar by a little more than half from the original recipe, but you can add more to taste.

1 pound Bing cherries (or other sweet variety), stemmed and pitted
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon greated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and arrange an oven rack to the upper third of the oven. Lightly butter or spray a baking sheet and a large ceramic baking dish (like a pie plate or gratin dish) with cooking spray.

Place the cherries on the baking sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, zest, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Toss the cherries with the seasonings on the baking sheet. Roast until the fruit is juicy, tender and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Give the pan a shake about halfway through cooking to keep the cherries from sticking to the pan. Remove the cherries from the baking sheet with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the baking dish, arranging them in a single layer. Pour any juices into a small saucepan.

Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

For the clafoutis batter, with an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of sugar until well-blended, then beat in the flour, vanilla, almond extract and cream until smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir about a quarter of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it first, then carefully fold in the remaining whites.

Pour the batter evenly over the cherries. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the batter has puffed and browned. During baking, reduce the reserved cherry juices to a thin syrup over medium heat. Dust the finished clafoutis with confectioners’ sugar and serve with a drizzle of the cherry syrup.

Jul 1, 2009

Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Ganache

Back when I was young and unafraid, I had the experience of a lifetime studying in Europe for a summer during college. It was the ultimate summer school–noisy pubs and boy chasing in England, sunbathing and karaoke at a dive bar with the Manchester United soccer (football, whatever) team in attendance in Malta (where did I put that photo of David Beckham and me, anyway?), lots of great chocolate in Germany and Austria. That sort of thing. And I think there may have been some schoolwork in there somewhere. Amazing what you can accomplish with a two-month-long hangover while a college student, really. Comes in second only to what a crazed mother of a 10-month-old can create when thinking of the days she was footloose and fancy-free. Like, say, working out a recipe for Nutella cupcakes.

The constant in my European summer, along with Boddingtons, was Nutella. It sustained Erin (she of Scotch-a-Roo lore) and I through the London portion of our trip, along with bread and Coke Light and a smartly-packed jar (her brillance, not mine) of American peanut butter. And to the delight of shoestring-budget college students like us, it seemed that you could find Nutella just about anywhere on the continent for dirt cheap. The hazelnut-chocolate combination is all over Europe in various forms, and is celebrated deliciously in the adorable Mozart Kuglen that I devoured by the dozen in Austria, making a huge dent in what was supposed to be a haul back to the states to gift to my family, who literally never really knew what they were missing.

Luckily, I can revisit that epic trip abroad by stopping into just about any supermarket and picking up a jar of Nutella. The creamy, chocolately, nutty spread is pretty much the ideal spoon-to-jar-to-mouth experience, and to this day I get crazy sense memories from just a whiff of the stuff. Recently, I got to thinking about it again because of a cake recipe I tried that involved chocolate syrup. The resulting cake was fabulously moist, but tasted way too much like, well, chocolate syrup. I brainstormed for days about what I could swap out the syrup with andbing!–NUTELLA! Insert me sprinting to the store here.

The Supermodel Cupcake look doesn’t give away how simple, simple, simple this recipe is. The most difficult thing about it is toasting and peeling hazelnuts for garnish, which, if pressed for time, you could forgo altogether. But even that is pretty simple–just throw the hazelnuts into a baking pan and into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until toasty and fragrant, then let them cool completely before wrapping them in a little bunch in a dish towel and rubbing them in your hands like a bag of marbles–the peels will flake right off. Do a bunch at once and freeze the rest and you too can have peeled hazelnuts at a moment’s notice. The American dream, right?

To arrive at this gorgeous and delicious specimen of a cupcake, I had to really rework the aforementioned chocolate syrup cake recipe (chocolate syrup is fat free, Nutella is pretty much just sugar and fat), and I baked up a couple test batches before declaring number three the winner. The cakes are moist and somewhat dense, almost chewy, and come out of the oven with perfectly flat tops, which beg for a slick of ganache and end up having that gorgeous, streamlined European bake shop vibe.

Even better, these elegant lookers are perfect dinner party make-aheads–they taste so much better with a more pronounced hazelnut flavor the next day. I can’t recommend them enough, people. Have a glass of milk or a nice strong cup of coffee nearby, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at a little scrolly wrought iron table someplatz special.

Nutella Cupcakes with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache

The ganache in this recipe is my go-to ganache–it firms up nicely with a slight chew and a satiny sheen. The recipe also works with dark, semi-sweet or milk chocolates. After the ganache sets up, I highly recommend storing the cupcakes in an airtight container overnight before serving them–the flavors are so much better the day after they’re baked.

Makes 12

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup sugar
8 ounces Nutella
2 eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk

For the ganache:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (60% cacao–I like Ghiradelli)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.

With an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until well-blended. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in the Nutella until well-incorporated, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl while beating. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. On low speed, beat in half the flour mixture just until it beings to disappear into the batter. Beat in the milk. Fold in the remainder of the flour mixture by hand until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling them no more than 1/2 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs–if in doubt, pull them from the oven a bit early–do not over bake. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, prepare the ganache. Place the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 second intervals, stopping to stir after each interval, until the mixture is shiny and smooth. Stir in the vanilla.

When the cupcakes are completely cool, using a spoon, top each one with about two teaspoons of the ganache, and with the back of the spoon coax it as close to the edges as possible without letting it drip down the sides (or go on and let it drip…drippy chocolate is rarely a bad thing). Sprinkle on a bit of the chopped hazelnuts. Let the ganache set before storing in an airtight container at room temperature overnight–these cupcakes truly taste better the next day. But if you want to defy me and serve the cupcakes immediately, refrigerate them for about five minutes and the ganache will quickly set.

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