Showing posts with label cakes and cupcakes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cakes and cupcakes. Show all posts

13 April 2016

Yumptious Tea Brack

Finally got around to baking King Arthur Flour's "Tea Brack" on Sunday. As I understand it, tea brack is the baking-powder-and-tea version of barmbrack, a yeasty bread usually served in Ireland at Halloween with different fortune-telling objects (a coin, a thimble, etc) baked into it. I'm still leery of yeast doughs, so this yeast-free version sounded perfect.

I used Barry's Gold Blend tea and Jack Daniel's Single Barrel (not Irish whiskey, but all I had on hand) to soak the fruit as I thought a little whiskey never went amiss with tea. The tea-and-whiskey soaked fruits were plump and yumptious. I used soft, vacuum-sealed fruits from because I find their products consistently good and quite reasonably priced for the quality I'm getting. I freely admit nearly as many dried plums (prunes) went into my belly as went into the cake! (I love dried plums, even back when they were still marketed as prunes and most often associated with grandmas and "regularity").

This cake is a little time-consuming, yes, but in a distinctly non-fiddly "do this and go away for an hour" way. I threw all my fruits together in a big bowl with the tea and whiskey, covered them with a tea towel, and then went off to tidy the living room. Then I assembled the dry ingredients in another bowl, got the egg out, and tidied the kitchen a bit. By the time the fruits were ready to go, I'd done enough that I felt truly accomplished for a Sunday morning.

As I lacked a 8" baking tin that was at least 2" deep, I used my 9" springform pan and wrapped the base in foil, just in case there were leaks. The cake rose up quite beautifully as it baked, but the walls of the pan were high enough to prevent spillovers. Baking tins I've seen in my English mother-in-law's kitchen seem to run much deeper than the ones I'm used to in America. I don't know why this is so -- perhaps because English cakes tend to be denser, fruit-based ones? But how does that explain the sponge cake?

But how does it taste? Heavenly. Moist, dense, fruity. Of course, I'm partial to fruitcake. And tea. And whiskey. People who do not like those things will probably not enjoy this cake. While a plain slice is perfectly delightful on its own, toasting it in a pan and then smearing it with good butter just brings it to a whole new level. Obviously, consume with tea (or whiskey!). Appropriate for breakfast, tea, or whenever you're feeling snacky. Remember, it's got fruit in it (And whole grains! And flavonoids!) so it must be good for you.

I'm tempted to make this tea brack at Christmas using a "Christmas" tea blend, cover the top with royal icing and pass it off as an easy Christmas cake. Seriously, I love the fruitcake recipes I use, but they each make cakes meant to be consumed by waaay more people than I know who like fruitcake. And there's no point telling me to freeze it, because even I (!) don't want fruitcake in July.

15 March 2016

Best Beloved's Unbirthday Cupcakes

Imperial Sugar's recipe for "Caramel Easter Egg Filled Chocolate Cupcakes" showed up in my feed about a month ago and I was immediately smitten. The Husband's birthday was coming up -- forty on the first day of Spring, yo -- and they seemed like just the thing to celebrate with. I know a big honkin' multi-tiered cake is probably more appropriate for a fortieth birthday, but there's only two of us and there's a limit to how much cake I want hanging around ... even if it is for my best beloved. Also, cupcakes keep well and are perfectly tidy foods requiring neither plates nor forks to consume. Cupcakes are best, is all I'm saying.

But ... then I realized I'd over-planned his birthday (presuming it doesn't rain) and there was no way I'd manage to bake cupcakes (or anything else) and keep to The Secret Birthday Weekend Plan, so the lucky duck enjoyed them on his unbirthday weekend!

Alas, I couldn't find "caramel mini Easter egg candies" -- only the bite-sized Mini Cadbury Creme Eggs -- so that's what I used. And I didn't have unsweetened chocolate, melted chopped up bits of 70% bittersweet baking bar and reduced the sugar by two tablespoons. And I didn't have quite enough canola oil, so made up the rest with melted butter. And ran out of all-purpose flour, so used about a half cup of white whole wheat. Really, I should have checked my baking supplies before I started cooking, but I always have all-purpose flour and canola oil on hand. Why would I run out?

Because I keep baking things, obviously. And my baking cupboard, while deep and generally well stocked, is not a limitless Horn of Plenty. Although, thanks to #Choctoberfest and Imperial Sugar, I'm still pretty well stocked with sugar! And chocolate. But, mostly, sugar.

I over-filled some of the baking cups with batter and they, of course, overflowed the edges of the cup when baking, creating a very messy cupcake. To make them a bit tidier, I flipped the cooled cupcakes upside down and then used a round biscuit cutter to trim the excess cake away. They still were professional bakery quality, but looked (imho) quite cute when frosted.

My cupcakes are frosted with store-bought whipped vanilla frosting I tinted with a little yellow gel paste food color. At first, I thought it was too pale, but have decided I rather like the effect of the bold green and blue against the softer yellow.

The Husband was super-annoyed I'd double cupped these and thought I'd booby-trapped them because, seeing the striped baking cup, he thought I'd unwrapped the first cupcake for him and proceeded to bite right through the inner cup. Eep. Oh, I how laughed. Oh, how he glowered. And then very carefully unwrapped the rest of the cupcake.

The cake part of these cupcakes are very good -- light, fluffy, chocolaty-but-not-too-sweet, and with excellent crumb -- but I was less enamored with the creme eggs as they settled to the bottom of the cupcake whilst baking and glued themselves to the bottom of the baking cups. The Husband ate them all quite happily, but as the baker it bothered me. How to keep them from settling to the bottom?

18 February 2016

Improv Challenge: Tea & Honey

This month for Improv Challenge, our ingredients were tea and honey. Part of me wanted to find a savory recipe, because baking with honey scared me a little ... but this is a challenge, after all, and so I knew I should push myself to cook outside my comfort zone.

The original recipe for this cake, called "English Honey Cake," came from The Best Ever Encyclopedia of British Cooking (Lorenz Books, 2011). I've added tea to it, obviously, and tweaked the amounts a little because, honestly, the amounts of honey and sugar going into the original seemed a touch inordinate. While I wanted a sweet, moist cake I didn't want to create something that would taste overwhelmingly SWEET -- the kind of hummingbird-crack cake where you take a bite and you're done.

I used linden (basswood) honey in this recipe, but clover or orange blossom honey should also yield good results. Linden, which I find rather herbal-tasting when compared to clover or orange blossom, is just what I happened to have on hand. The Polish grocery I shop at stocks an astonishing variety of honey and I am slowly working my way through them (with some help from Google Translate).

Honestly, I wasn't sure how much tea to use in this cake. I knew I wanted a strong tea flavor so I ... basically just dumped in tea until the butter mixture looked "right." Turned out that was five teabags or about two tablespoons. The flavor was good -- think chai gingerbread.

You could probably use any spicy tea blend with this cake. For this particular bake I used Tazo's Chai Organic which is a yummy blend of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and other spices and it worked out really well -- richly aromatic and flavorful. However, a blend like Tazo's Pumpkin Spice -- black tea, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, & pumpkin -- or Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea blend -- "an assertive blend of black teas, three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves" -- might also be quite fun to try.

Chai-Spiced Honey Cake

Yield: 16 pieces


  • ¾ unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp runny honey
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chai tea blend (about 5 teabags worth)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 8 oz self-rising flour


  1. Grease and line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Heat butter, ½ cup honey, sugar, and 2 Tbsp tea in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring regular, until butter is melted and everything is well mixed. Remove from heat and let rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs and milk into the cooled mixture. Sift the flour over the top and then beat in until smooth.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until cake is risen, golden brown, and firm to the touch.
  6. Leave cake to cool in pan on a cookie rack for 20 min. Firmly grasp the parchment and use it to gently lift the cake out onto the rack. Allow to cool completely in the parchment.
  7. Put remaining 2 Tbsp honey in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat until honey is very liquidy. Brush over cake and allow to sit until needed.
  8. Remove parchment and cut into 16 squares.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how this cake turned out. It's a light, spicy cake with a beautiful, rich, honey-brown color speckled with lots of attractive flecks from the tea -- almost looks like a seed cake -- and it smells wonderful. Pairs well with a big mug of unsweetened black tea and reminds me quite strongly of something The Husband's Grandmother Winnie would have kept on hand for "just in case." Definitely worth baking again. Thanks, Camilla, for suggesting February's Improv Challenge theme!

15 October 2015

Improv Challenge: Halloweeny Orange & Black Marble Cake

October's Improv Challenge theme is orange and black so I baked a cake ... a marbled cake which is a cake I'd never attempted before because artistic swirls and flourishes are not really my thing. And by "not my thing" I mean "a thing I've never tried, because it looks fancy and I'm bound to mess it up." But what's the point of doing a challenge if it doesn't encourage me to move outside my comfort zone?

This marbled cake is based on a classic sponge cake and is light, fluffy and totally yum (The Husband really likes it and that's no small thing) that I've tarted up with orange zest, cocoa powder, and gel colors. While my marbling isn't as awesome most of the marbled cakes you'll see on, say, Pinterest I'm still quite pleased with the results and have satisfactorily conquered my fear of marbling. Next time, though, I might try three colors and swirl the batter just a bit more vigorously.

Orange & Black Marble Cake

Yield: 8 slices


  • 8 oz unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz superfine sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz self-rising flour
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • ½ tsp orange extract
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Black and orange gel paste food colors


  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and milk into the bowl of your food processor and whizz around until everything is smooth.

  • Divide the cake batter evenly between 2 bowls. Stir the cocoa powder and vanilla into one of the batter bowls. Stir orange extract and zest into the other. Slowly whisk black gel paste into cocoa batter, adding a little at a time, until the batter is blacker than a moonless night. Repeat with the orange batter and gel paste, until that batter is as orange as The Great Pumpkin.

  • Using two spoons, plop batters into the baking pan in a checkerboard(ish) pattern. Gently tap the baking pan against your counter edge to remove any air bubbles and help spread the batters up against the edge of the tin. Swirl a skewer or knife through the mixture to create a marbled effect.

  • Bake the cake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake form the oven and let cool it completely on a rack. When cool, cut into 8-pieces and serve with orange or vanilla infused whipped cream.

11 March 2015

Fruitcake Season: Plum Ginger

Although the calendar may say Spring is "only" weeks away, it's still very much winter here on Death Mountain. So much so that I'm half-tempted to put the Christmas tree back up and break out the eggnog. Except no-one is selling eggnog now. No, it's all chocolate bunnies and Easter grass.

Yeah, that's one biiiig fruitcake.

To heck with it all. I baked a fruitcake. Yes, finally got around to baking up the Paula Deen fruitcake I'd most be longing to try -- the "Plum Ginger" with green tea and Chinese 5-spice powder infused batter. It just sounded as interesting as all get out. So not the traditional fruitcake flavors. And yet still using the trappings of a traditional fruitcake -- citron, orange, and lemon peel, etc.

Delicious, fragrant batter.

The other Paula Deen fruitcakes I've made all used similar preparation methods and the "Plum Ginger" cake was not very different. Yes, I had to brew a strong cup of green tea and there was no alcohol bath at the end of the baking cycle, but those were really the only differences. As with the others, the batter went together easily and tasted ridiculously delicious even unbaked. (Yes, I know, raw batter is not a thing anyone should eat and yet how can I help it if, in stirring the batter, I accidentally got some on my fingers and then my fingers accidentally wandered into my mouth).

Paula Deen's "Plum Ginger" Fruitcake" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2008. Also available on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). Can't locate a copy on your own? See if your friendly local library can help you out.

31 December 2014

Three-Bite Christmas Cheesecakes

I wanted to do something decadent for Christmas Dinner, but not overwhelmingly so. Mini cheesecakes seemed just the thing and when I stumbled across Paula Deen's recipe for "Hazelnut Mini Cheesecakes," I knew I'd struck gold. What do we love? Nutella. And Ferrero Rocher. And Frangelico. What's in these cheesecakes? Hazelnuts. Chocolate. Frangelico.

It was meant to be!

Pulverized chocolate graham crackers.

Now, making cheesecake is actually The Husband's thing, so I was a little nervous making these ... but I needn't have been! The instructions are quite clear and the whole thing turned out much more easily than I'd feared. The hardest part, actually, was making the chocolate graham cracker crumbs simply because I wasn't sure how fine a crumb they should be. I guess, maybe, you can buy the crumbs ready-made somewhere? I've certainly bought the plain graham cracker crumbs before (yes, LAZY). I ended up processing half the box of chocolate graham crackers down to something that looked a lot like black almond flour and decided that was probably good enough.

"Finely"(ish) chopped hazelnuts.

Honestly, I think I could have used regular graham cracker crumbs, because we couldn't really taste any chocolate when we ate these. Hazelnut, yes. Chocolate, no. And there was the scent of Frangelico, but no taste of it. If anything, I feel the cheesecake batter would have benefited from a teaspoon or so of vanilla bean paste. Or, The Husband's suggestion, raspberry extract.

Certainly, these would be very good drizzled with raspberry coulis. Many of my mini cheesecakes collapsed a bit in the middle as they cooled (I suspect I'd beaten too much air into the batter), creating the perfect "cup" for sauce of some kind. When I served them after Christmas dinner, I topped the cheesecakes with fresh whipped cream and a Ferrero Rocher so no-one could see the indentations!

Overall we liked these cheesecakes, but we didn't love them. Oh, we were certainly happy to eat them all up over the course of Christmas vacation, but every time I ate one, I was reminded of how much better it could be. Definitely orange or vanilla extract next time, beaten on a lower speed, and maybe grease the pans a bit to keep the baking cheesecakes from creeping up the sides? It's definitely a recipe worth fiddling with.

Paula Deen's "Hazelnut Mini Cheesecakes" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2007. Also available on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). Can't locate a copy on your own? See if your friendly local library can help you out.

24 December 2014

Fruitcake Season: Cranberry Walnut

While I reallyreally wanted to kick off Fruitcake Season with Paula Deen's "Plum Ginger Fruitcake," my mother made disparaging noises when I described it to her and, since I am responsible for Christmas dessert, I decided to go with a safer, more traditional flavor combination. My mother does like fruitcake, by the way, but she is a very traditional baker and ingredients like green tea and Chinese five-spice powder make her very suspicious.

So, perhaps less excitingly, I started Fruitcake Season with "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake." Assembling and baking was just as easy as when I make its sister, "Tropical Fruitcake." Always there is a worrying disparity between the amount of batter created and the amount for fillings to be added. But the point to remember is that the batter is there more to mold the bits of fruit, nut, and peel into a cohesive whole than it is to be cake. Or, more simply put, it's fruitcake.

The raw batter was deliciously fragrant, by the way, and tasted better than any spice cake batter I've ever made. I did use a mix of cinnamon, mace, and allspice instead of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves called for ... simply because I always use mace instead of nutmeg and did not know I was out of ground cloves until I started baking. (I went through my spices twice when I was writing up my list of necessary fruitcake supplies and I swear I saw ground cloves then).

Also, despite a basement full of spirits, I did not have any orange-flavored liqueur and ended up substituting Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur. I could have used regular ol' Jack Daniels, but I worried that would be too harsh. Orange liqueur would be a little sweet and mellow, like honey whisky. (Just to be safe, I threw in a teaspoon of orange extract with the vanilla).

Once I added the fruit, nuts, and peel to the butter-and-flour mixture, the batter became intensely dense and was increasingly difficult for my KitchenAid Professional stand mixer to handle. This happens every time I make a fruitcake, so I've learned not to freak out and worry my stand mixer will explode. I am, every time, extremely grateful to the Christmas fairies who gave me my shiny red workhorse. I don't think I could easily make these dense batters with the smaller tilt-head stand mixer unless I wanted to finish mixing by hand -- my mother does this and ropes my father into wielding the spoon because she doesn't have the strength!

The raw batter fills the 10-inch tube pan pretty much to the top, but that's okay because even with two teaspoons of baking powder this cake has minimal rise and there's absolutely no danger of it overflowing the pan, dripping all over the oven's heating element, and making a terrible burning smell. Do I sound like I speak from experience? I have had a few overflowing bundts. It's not fun. (It also took 3.5 hours in my oven, but I've suspected for sometime now that my oven no longer runs as hot as it used to).

Paula Deen's "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2008. Also available on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). Can't locate a copy on your own? See if your friendly local library can help you out.

17 December 2014

Bake All the Fruitcakes!

A few years ago, I bought a copy of the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012) for a ridiculously low post-Christmas price. I'm not a huge Paula Deen fan, but I've enjoyed many of her recipes and the DVD seemed like a good buy. It collects every page of the magazine from the first issue in 2005 through the end of 2012. It's searchable, bookmarkable, printable ... and (most important of all) contains all the recipes my mother and I shared back and forth when she was still a subscriber. Au Gratin Carrots? Yes. Horseradish Mashed Potatoes? Yes. Mushroom Lasagna? Yes.

And all five totally awesome fruitcake recipes from the November/December 2008 issue! I say totally awesome, but I've only made one of the five -- the fabulous "Tropical Fruitcake" with pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts, and white rum -- so how can I be sure of the other four?

I guess I'll just have to bake more fruitcakes this winter! The "Traditional Fruitcake" doesn't interest me -- that's the one my mom bakes, so I know it's perfectly fine -- but I'm really looking forward to trying "Plum Ginger Fruitcake" (the batter is infused with green tea!) and "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake" (because who doesn't love cranberries and walnuts?). Can't quite make my mine up about "Ambrosia Fruitcake" as I'm guessing, flavor-wise, it's supposed to be reminiscent of ambrosia salad and I just remember that my uncle's ambrosia was deathly sweet.

Baking three fruitcakes requires a serious laying on of supplies, so I started totting up a list of ingredients I'd need:
  • 16 cups flour
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 5 cups candied orange peel
  • 4 cups chopped pecans
  • 4 cups sliced almonds
  • 4 cups chopped walnuts
  • 4 cups chopped macadamias
  • 4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 4 cups candied pineapple chunks
  • 3 cups chopped dried apples
  • 3 cups dried cranberries
  • 3 cups chopped dried plums
  • 2 cups candied citron
  • 2 cups crystallized ginger
  • 2 cups candied lemon peel
  • 2 cups glazed red cherries
  • 1 cup raisins
I already own some of the ingredients, but it's a good thing we're in the heart of Baking Season and so many ingredients are on sale! But where am I going to store it all??

01 October 2014

Figgy-Figgy Fall Bundt Cake

Monday night, I was trying to reorganize my kitchen so that I could finally get rid of the rolling cart that holds all my vinegars, oils, and lunch boxes. I've owned the cart since 1994 (bought it at Ames, yo) and am well past any feelings of guilt about tossing it. Goodbye, cart. Hello, additional people space.

Because shuffling the contents of one cart eventually meant shuffling the contents of five cupboards, I ended up elbow deep (and a bit snarly) in my baking cupboard around nine o'clock. Why had I bought dried figs again? How many packages of raisins does a person need? And lets not talk about the bags of white chocolate chips! And the confectionery sugar! Oh, the confectionery sugar!! Clearly, I needed to Bake Something.

And I did! A dense cinnamon-y fall bundt full of figs, raisins, and pecans. It is more a quick bread than a cake, but you bake it in a bundt pan and "bundt cake" sounds right ... whereas "bundt bread" sounds decidedly odd. My recipe is based on "Healthy Fig Bread" from Nordicware's Bundt Entertaining, but I feel I've made it even more healthy (and delicious) with the use of buttermilk and white whole wheat.


My only complaint is that I can clearly see beige-y flakes of oatmeal among the darker cake and I don't like the aesthetic at all. Otherwise, it's a very tasty cake and a little piece, with a nice cup of tea, goes a long way. I love how the cake is absolutely studded with fruit -- none of that sunk-to-the-bottom nonsense I've had with some cakes and I think some of that success might be due to combining the fruit and nuts with the wet ingredients before adding the dry as this leaves the fruit kind-of suspended. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing baking magic?

Figgy Bundt Cake

A dense cinnamon-y fall bundt full of figs, raisins, and pecans.

Yield: 12-24 slices

Cook time: 00 hrs. 45 mins.

Total time: 01 hrs. 15 mins.

Tags: bundt cake, baking, cake


  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup chopped figs
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup old-fashioned (rolled) oats
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan. (The cake won't rise much so you're probably okay with an 8-cup pan, too).
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, and butter. Add figs, raisins, and pecans.
  4. Add flour ("dry") mixture to the egg ("wet") mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are just combined. Spoon into pan.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes or until a cake tester jabbed into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on rack. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on rack.

As with many quick breads, this is better the next day.

I chopped the figs by removing their stems, slicing them lengthwise, and then crosswise into small pieces. They were very sticky and squishy and yum ... I may have eaten as many figs while preparing the batter as went into the finished cake. Whoops.

This coming Sunday, I'll bake up a bunch of white chocolate and pecan oatmeal cookies for work and that will use up one of the partial bags of morsels. I have only three or four recipes I make with any regularity that use white chocolate and even then they don't use that much ... so I really have no idea why I ended up with so many bags. Oh, I know! Poor organization skills!

01 August 2014

Edible Ball-Bearings. Genius!

We threw a Whovian social at work recently and, since it was my baby, I brought the cupcakes. And the Jammie Dodgers. And the bananas. And the satsumas (actually clementines, because SEASONALITY).

Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and silver Wilton sugar pearls.

Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream and Bananarama candies.

Being pressed for time, I bought these cupcakes from our Price Chopper and decorated them at home. I loved the Bananarama candies (found them at Sweet Factory, one of those pick-and-mix candy stores) as they actually tasted like proper bananas and not the hideous approximation of banana-ness I expected. The Wilton pearls were, however, slightly disappointing as I thought they looked more steel grey than silver. But, you know, supposedly you can't buy the real silver ones here anymore because of some (perhaps overly cautious) food regulations.

18 June 2014

Cake Baking As An Act of Contrition

Monday night, I had the house to myself. I had a fairly large to-do list and every intention of Getting Things Done. And then I decided to chuck it all and bake a cake. Because sometimes cake is the important thing. Sometimes, cake is love. Or, at least, an apology.

I haven't been sleeping very well lately. Some of it is caused by the Hamster Wheel of Useless Thoughts. And some by a tiny bladder. And, yes, some of it is due to The Husband's snoring. Still, there's no good excuse for sitting bolt upright in bed in the wee small hours of the morning and shouting at my best beloved that I am going to murder him if he doesn't stop snoring.

So, this cake? This cake is an apology. Baking it was an act of contrition. There is no crumb of this cake that was designed to please me. Every morsel was assembled with The Husband's tastes in mind. Chocolate sponge -- light, moist, and tender-crumbed. Chocolate mousse -- creamy, light, rich. Chocolate buttercream -- rich, dark, deeply chocolatey. And crunchy Maltesers for garnish, because every cake needs a little bling.

And, wow, did this cake go over well! It may very well be one of the best cakes I've ever baked.

Recipes used or adapted:

02 February 2014

Baking for My Love: Chocolate Madeleines

As the orange madeleines from William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition) went over so well, I decided to tackle the chocolate version. The recipes are almost identical, but the chocolate recipe obviously omits the orange zest and adds cocoa powder. Interestingly, it also omits the almond extract and uses a full teaspoon of vanilla. I'm pretty sure red raspberry extract would also work well and I may try that next time. Oh, yes, there will be a next time. I envision a monthly baking of madeleines. Chocolate raspberry madeleines. Ginger madeleines. Lemon poppy seed madeleines. Chai spice madeleines.

Except. I'm baking for The Husband and he's not going to want anything more adventurous that chocolate raspberry. Drat.

*sobs into her floury apron*

Chocolate Madeleines

I found it a bit odd that the two recipes were not found side-by-side in William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition), but fell 147 pages apart -- the first in the chapter on cookies and the second in the chapter on chocolate. Why did you do this, editors? All the recipes in the chocolate chapter could easily have been integrated into the rest of the book -- chocolate madeleines with cookies, chocolate opera cake with cakes, etc. Is it simply because chocolate is a big deal to most humans? Am I just being pedantic and weird?

Probably. And, yes.

As with the orange version, this recipe makes twelve madeleines and they are best served warm with a light dusting of confectionery sugar. I found them rather richer than the orange ones -- the orange ones were so light and fluffy and zesty that I managed to eat four without blinking, but the chocolate ones were darkly, deeply chocolaty (surprising, because I just used Hershey's Dutch-processed cocoa) and two more than sufficed with a pot of Earl Grey. The Husband does not agree with me on this and he happily ate five chocolate madeleines with his afternoon cuppa. It's possible that it comes down to chocolate tolerance. If you love chocolate, you'll want to eat all the madeleines. If you don't, then you won't. I'm very much a citrus and berry girl.

19 January 2014

Baking for My Love: Orange Madeleines

I'm a bookish cook, so baking madeleines seems an obvious thing and yet I've spent years avoiding the things because they sounded tricksy and every resource seemed to have a different opinion about what they should be. Mostly, I think, because everyone wants to bake Proust's madeleines and no-one has that precise recipe?

As I don't want to bake Proust's madeleines any more than I want to read Proust, I was willing (purely out of love for The Husband) to attempt the two versions in William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition). The Husband seemed quite excited by the idea of madeleines -- they are very photogenic cookie-cakes (cake-cookies?), after all -- and they seemed high on his list of Things I Must Bake.

Since we had too many satsumas on hand, my first attempt was with the recipe for orange madeleines. A thorough read-through of the recipe actually left me feeling quite confident I could bake a decent madeleine -- they are surprisingly simple cookie-cakes -- and I was away.

Buttered, Floured Madeleine Pan

The recipe says to carefully and thoroughly butter and flour ever ridge of the madeleine pan, because the madeleines may stick otherwise, so I buttered and floured as if Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were looking over my shoulder. And, you know, I think I might have gone a wee bit overboard, because when I went to flip and knock the pan against the cooling rack to release the cookies, they all fell out before I'd even completed the flip. I used a Chicago Metallic madeleine pan and it is, apparently, not joking around about being nonstick.

These madeleines came out looking and tasting just as Essentials of Baking said they should -- perfect little scallop shells of tender, spongy cake. I was so chuffed. We ate them warm, as recommended, with a dusting of confectionery sugar. The recipe makes twelve, which is perfect with tea for two as breakfast and elevenses.

Orange Madeleines

Really, I can't get over how well these madeleines came out and I look forward to baking the chocolate version. While I know a lot of my success has to do with improved baking skills due to time and practice, some has to do with the way Essentials of Baking's is written. It's as if the editors peeked into my brain and then wrote the book specifically for me. The recipes (at least the ones I've read through) all seem quite clear and straight forward and even go so far as to provide instructions for both hand and machine mixing. And amounts are giving in multiple forms of measurement! Honestly, I'm crushing pretty hard on Essentials of Baking.

Orange Madeleines

02 November 2013

He Baked Me A Cake

Saturday night, I came home from work to find the front door locked. I was a bit baffled, as The Husband was clearly home. I knocked, only to be met by unintelligible shouting. Eventually, The Husband let me in, mumbling something about not letting me in too soon. Apparently, he was desperately trying to finish this cake:

Birthday Cake

Yes, The Husband baked me a Victoria sponge for my birthday. He doesn't usually bake and, as he didn't know what any of "the shit" in my baking cupboard was (lots of unlabeled clear canisters only I know the contents of), he went out and bought more baking powder and more superfine sugar and more jam. He was very indignant that he had to go to two different grocery stores as Price Chopper did not have superfine sugar. He "had to go all the way to Stop and Shop" ... as if they are not within half a mile of each other. Adorable man.

To bake this Victoria sponge, The Husband used a mash-up of "Mary Berry's Perfect Victoria Sandwich" and Daniel C Duckett's "Classic Victoria Sponge Cake," because Berry had the right ingredients and Duckett had the right pan sizes. The Husband didn't use Duckett's buttercream, because "WTF? That shit have does not belong in a Victoria sponge!!!" The Husband has strong feelings about cake, you know.

Anyway, totes smashing first attempt. Two golden cake spoons, most assuredly. Sponge was a bit dry, admittedly, but still a good effort all 'round. I mean, look at that:

Piece o' Cake

Is it not a thing of beauty?

17 October 2013

Improv Challenge: Cake & Frosting

When I saw that October's Improv Challenge ingredients were cake and frosting, I immediately knew I wanted to try baking a boozy spice cake using beer in place of water in the mix. I've been wanting to try this method ever since one of my in-the-know coworkers mentioned it could be done with just about any beer or liquor and cake mix.

Ginger Beer Cupcakes w/ Ginger Beer Frosting

Keeping with the season, I used a spice cake mix, baking spice, apple sauce, crystallized ginger bits, and a bottle of Crabbie's splendorous Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Obviously, any beer you like will probably work. I might try this again with Woodchuck Pumpkin Ale in the spice mix and there's Guinness in the basement that would go well in a dark chocolate mix ...

Ginger Beer Cupcake Ingredients

It was my plan to make a dozen cupcakes and an 8-inch round. The round would be for me and the cupcakes would be for work. Alas, I did not grease the cake round well enough and the cake would not come out ... until I banged it really hard against the counter. Then it came out in bits. Well played, cake round, well played.

The cake was still pretty yummy, anyway, and I happily ate bits of it as I frosted the cupcakes.
Beery Spicy (Cup)cakes

Cake Ingredients
1 spice cake mix [Betty Crocker SuperMoist]
1 bottle seasonal beer, at room temperature
1 tsp baking spice blend [Penzeys]
Applesauce (in place of half the oil)
Whatever else ingredients your mix may call for

Cake Directions
Prepare your cake mix following the instructions on the back of the box, substituting applesauce for half or all of the oil and beer for the water or milk.

(I was a bit alarmed by how soupy the batter was but it thickened up considerably during the 2 minutes of medium beating).

Ginger Beer Cupcake Batter

Divide between a 8 or 9-inch baking round and a cupcake pan you've lined with cupcake liners. (It's easiest to fill all the cupcakes first (⅔ full) and then pour the extra into the baking round). Bake cupcakes as directed. Remove from oven. Put cake round in oven and bake as directed.

Allow everything to cool thoroughly before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients
1 cup shortening
½ tsp salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground ginger
6 Tbsp beer
Finely chopped crystallized ginger, as needed for garnish

Frosting Directions
Beat together everything but the crystallized ginger until fluffy. Add additional beer if the frosting seems too stiff to spread.

Use a cupcake corer or small spoon to scoop some of the center out of each cupcake. Fill and ice with the frosting. Decorate with a scatter of ginger.

Ginger Beer Cupcakes w/ Ginger Beer Frosting

The cupcakes were very light and fluffy with an excellent gingery bite. The frosting, too, was nicely gingery and, overall, I was very pleased with how well everything turned out. One of my coworkers said they were the best cupcakes she had every eaten which made me blush, to say the least. (They were good, but not that good).

22 March 2013

Birthday Bakery Crawl

Took The Husband on a bakery crawl for his birthday, because The Husband loves himself some baked goods and we live in an area full of bakeries we have not visited yet. You would think, considering how much money we spend on baked goods every year, that such a thing could not be true and yet it is.

While I'd plotted a great many bakeries thanks to Yelp and Google Maps, we only visited three before The Husband cried uncle! I have no doubt we'll visit the remainder soon ... a bakery a weekend would probably be the sensible method.

Sensible, schmensible. Visit all the bakeries. Eat all the things.

Cupcakes @ Sugarbelle
Cupcakes  from Sugarbelle

Mousse cake @ La Petit France
Chocolate mousse cake from La Petit France

Tarts @ Aby's Bakery
Assorted tarts from Aby's Bakery

03 February 2013

Banana Bread & The Cookies of Appeasement

Once again, our freezer suffered from a surfeit of bananas. Its salvation? Money Saving Mom's tempting "Freezer-Friendly Chocolate Banana Bread" (subbed peanut butter chips for chocolate). I don't know that this bread actually freezes well as it's going straight to work and into hungry librarian bellies, but it looks and smells fabulous. Indeed, its heady perfume made me feel a bit drunk after a while and I had to remove the loaf to a cupboard while I baked The Husband's Cookies of Appeasement.

Chocolate Banana Bread w/ Peanut Butter Morsels
My co-worker's could not get enough of this bread!

I'd already baked The Husband a beautiful almond bundt cake earlier this week (with homemade raspberry sauce even!), but he was still clearly displeased to come downstairs this morning and discover the delicious baking smells that had finally roused him from his snug nest were not for him. Oh, the betrayal in his eyes! And the scorn he heaped upon my poor, innocent banana bread.

Almond Bundt w/ Raspberry Sauce
Tender almond sponge with raspberry sauce, yum!

So I baked him cookies -- Betty Crocker's "Black Beauties" -- which allowed me to use up the bag of Betty Crocker double chocolate chunk cookie mix leftover from a work event, so yay for that. The cookies came out well, even though I omitted the nuts (meant to replace them with chopped hazelnuts but forgot) and did not dip the baked cookies in melted chocolate (clearly, I do not love my husband that much). They were best the first few hours out of the oven, when biting down on their crisp exteriors released warm, gooey chocolate centers. I suspect that tomorrow they'll just be a bit chewy and The Husband will lose a little of his ardor for them.

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Can't go wrong with a warm cookie

Oh, fickle Eater of Cookies!

19 January 2013

Italian Homework: Italian Cheesecake

For "Lesson 11: Creating Sumptuous Italian Desserts," the penultimate class in the online Italian cooking course I've been taking through Universal Class and my public library, I made a fabulous ricotta cheesecake. It was my first cheesecake! And so blessedly easy! Fool-proof, even! No water bath! No crust! Just pure, unmitigated deliciousness.

Italian Cheesecake
My first cheesecake! So proud!
The cheesecake was light, creamy, and mildly sweet. Filling, but not heavy --- I love cheesecake, but it usually leaves me with an "Ohmygod, I need bigger pants and a nap" feeling. This cheesecake was almost like eating a dense lemon mousse and left my tummy content rather than overstuffed.
Ricotta Cheesecake
Serves 8. 8 Weight Watchers Points+ by my math, but ymmv.


6 large eggs
⅔ cup sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract [Penzeys Mexican vanilla]
1 32 ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese
Zest of one lemon


Pour the ricotta cheese into a colander lined with cheesecloth and let drain for an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Spray a nine-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

Separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Beat the yolks by with an electric hand mixer or what have you until light yellow and thick. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat on medium speed for another 2 minutes. Add the ricotta cheese and lemon zest and mix well.

Clean your beaters and beat the egg whites on high speed until they make stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whites into the ricotta mixture until mixed well. Pour the mixture into the springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and the sides begin to pull away from the pan (start checking at about 50 minutes). Let cake cool completely before refrigerating. Cover with foil and let settle in the fridge for at least 7 hours before cutting.

Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream.
Next time, I'm trying this with orange zest! Bet it will be just as fabulous.