September 6, 2022

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake


I spent the latter part of July and all of August in Europe for some summer holidays and work.  While I absolutely loved my time abroad and getting the chance to (re)connect with dear friends and work colleagues the one thing I really missed was being able to bake.  Since I was going to be away for such a long period of time I had every intention of baking in Europe, and even packed measuring cups, spoons and a kitchen scale in my checked luggage.  Unfortunately the gods were against me and I became yet another statistic in the luggage drama that epitomized summer 2022 travels when my bag went missing for three weeks.  [I'm sure you've seen the images of a sea of lost bags and suitcases at the European airports.]  
As soon as I got back home to San Francisco my itch to bake was in major overdrive.  When I saw the recipe for this Chocolate Olive Oil Cake on Half Baked Harvest's Instagram Stories I knew it was going to be my first bake.  Never mind that I was in the middle of some home renovations and my house was in disarray.  Baking will always be a priority!

I'm a big fan of olive oil cake but I'd never seen or even heard of a chocolate version.  Why didn't I think of that?  The real clincher was that the recipe for the batter and frosting didn't require a mixer and used natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey.  

Having just polished off a piece I can honestly say this cake is going to be on regular rotation and added to my baking repertoire.  Yes, it's THAT good.  The cake is tender and full of intense chocolate flavor while the frosting is creamy, chocolate-y and not too sweet.  Do yourself a favor and make this chocolate olive oil cake asap.

June 10, 2022

Kirschkuchen (Cherry Coffee Cake)

It's become an annual tradition, five years and counting!, to go cherry picking with my family to herald the beginning of summer.  My parents live in California's San Joaquin Valley and there are several U-pick places near them. Normally we go cherry-picking around Memorial Day weekend, but this year we went two weeks later and most of the trees had been picked over.  Fortunately we were still able to find a few trees that were bursting with ripe, sweet Bing cherries, our favorite variety.  

When it comes to cherry picking my family doesn't mess around. No joke, in previous years we've picked in the neighborhood of 50-60 pounds!  And no, lest you think we're complete fruit gluttons, we do not eat all the cherries ourselves!  A majority of the fruit is distributed to family and friends to enjoy.
Ironically, while Bing cherries are great for eating and snacking, when it comes to baking it's actually tart cherries that are preferred.  Sadly I haven't really been able to source fresh tart cherries near me.  One year I even considered having some sent from Michigan, but after seeing the exorbitant shipping costs to San Francisco I immediately changed my mind.   Luckily canned tart cherries can be easily sourced at my local supermarket.
Pie is normally the first thing that comes to people's minds with cherry baking, but I happened upon this recipe for Kirschkuchen (Cherry Coffee Cake) from Red Currant Bakery and wanted to try it instead.  If you aren't already following Audrey's blog you should because she focuses on German baking.  What I especially like about this particular recipe is the use of tart AND sweet cherries.   Nothing goes better with cherries than almonds.  I just love the fruit and nut combination so I added hints of almond to the recipe where I could.  For the cake batter and streusel I replaced some of the vanilla extract with almond extract and to give the streusel topping some extra crunch I mixed in raw sliced almonds.  
It took immense willpower to let the cake cool slightly before digging into it but once it was warm enough to cut I immediately polished off two slices.  It's THAT good!  I think I might have found a new cherry tradition because I will definitely be making this recipe again and again.

June 2, 2022

Mini Victoria Sandwich Cakes


Even though I'm not from England I have to admit I'm a fan of the British royal family.  (Especially the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who are favorites of mine!)  I just love the history, traditions and pomp and circumstance that goes hand in hand with the institution.  In honor of Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee celebrations this weekend I made Mini Victoria Sandwich Cakes, named after the second longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.  She was known to enjoy a slice of cake along with her afternoon tea.
If you've been to England I'm sure you've seen this tempting cake at a tea salon or bakery. It's  comprised of two vanilla cake layers that are "sandwiched" with berry jam and buttercream or whipped heavy cream.   What makes it so appealing to me is its simplicity; there's no need to cover the entire cake with frosting or other embellishments.  In fact, you could say it was the original naked cake.   
Recipes abound on the internet and you'll have no trouble finding one, e.g., Mary Berry's.  Most call for self-raising flour, widely used in British baking, but I've found that cakes made with self-raising flour can be hit or miss because the type sold in the US isn't exactly the same as those sold in the UK.  Plus, I like being able to control the amount of leavening in a recipe.   
Luckily I found Nigella Lawson's Victoria sponge recipe, which used all-purpose flour (aka "plain flour"), cornstarch and baking powder.  Cornstarch was a new ingredient I hadn't seen before and was supposed to make the cake tender and light.  The process to make the batter couldn't be simpler either.  Just throw everything into a food processor and whiz it up for a few minutes until creamy.  

To mini-size the cake I used a nonstick cheesecake pan with removable bottoms, which made releasing the cakes super easy.  They did bake up with a bit of a hump on top, but I leveled them off with a serrated knife after they were cooled.  Baker's treat!  The cake gets a 5-star rating from me with it's tender, light crumb and delicious taste.  
I sandwiched the mini cakes with some leftover Swiss meringue buttercream that I had thawed from the freezer and homemade raspberry jam.  The smaller cake was the perfect portion and would satisfy anyone's sweet tooth.  All that remained was a light dusting of powdered sugar and a nice cuppa. 

Many congratulations to the Queen for her selfless years of service.  God Save The Queen!

May 28, 2022

No-Bake Mango Lime Cheesecake


To kick off the summer season (and the opening of his backyard swimming pool) my brother hosted a Memorial Day weekend barbecue for the family.  We normally divide and conquer when it comes to the menu and I was tasked with bringing dessert, comme d'habitude.  I wanted to make something light and fruity that didn't require too much effort.  Enter this No-Bake Mango Lime Cheesecake, which I'd initially seen on the NY Times Cooking Instagram account and immediately saved.  


Cheesecake itself can be quite heavy, especially the New York variety, but thankfully this one isn't since there are no eggs in the recipe.  The mango flavor comes from the use of canned, unsweetened purĂ©e, an ingredient not normally found in my pantry, but I was able to easily source some from Amazon.  I've heard you can also find it at Indian supermarkets. The citrus tones coming from the fresh lime juice and lime zest compliments the mango and cream cheese flavors beautifully.

The original recipe calls for a no-bake graham cracker crust but I decided to swap that out for one that you bake since I prefer a toasty texture instead.  Gelatin is used to set up the filling and glaze which makes it really nice to slice.  Often times I've found that when you use mangoes in desserts the fruit flavor gets lost in the shuffle; not with this cheesecake.  Since it wasn't baked the refreshing, tropical fruit flavor stays intact.   Really delicious!
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