October 10, 2020

Pumpkin-Chocolate Marble Loaf Cake

Fall baking is now upon us and I, for one, love it!  I can't seem to get enough of warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove this time of year.  Pumpkin bread is a perennial favorite throughout the season and I was immediately intrigued when I saw this recipe from Real Simple for pumpkin chocolate cupcakes.  
 

 
Never would I have thought to combine chocolate with pumpkin. What a great idea! I knew I wanted to make it but I couldn't be bothered making cupcakes (because I'm lazy) so I went with a much easier variation which I'm calling Pumpkin-Chocolate Marble Loaf.  

The vanilla batter is divided into two portions: one is flavored with pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice while unsweetened cocoa and milk are mixed to the other.  I wasn't sure if there was enough batter to bake the cake in a traditional 8.5" x 4.5" loaf pan so I ended up using a 3" x 9.5" pan I bought at my local Daiso (for those that aren't familiar it's like a Japanese Target!) many years ago.  Even with the smaller pan there was a little bit of overflow when the cake was baking so next time I'll take some of the batter and make 1-2 cupcakes.  If you don't have a smaller loaf pan then I would just use the normal size you already have.

Rather than topping the cake with chocolate buttercream I made a really easy and quick ganache using heavy cream and bittersweet chocolate chips.  There couldn't be a simpler glaze to make, plus I love the look of the ganache dripping down the sides of the loaf.  One slice of the cake and I was totally converted.  The pumpkin and chocolate flavors shine through individually but complement each other wonderfully.   I will definitely be making this cake again.

October 1, 2020

Small Batch Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

 

I've noticed there's been a trend lately in small batch baking.  I, for one, definitely welcome this because as someone who lives by myself I just don't need a dozen of this or that.  Normally I would just give my bakes away to family and friends, and I'll still do that, but with small batch bakes I don't have to!

This recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins from Hummingbird High caught my attention because of their exceptionally tall tops, just like ones you'd find at a bakery à la Levain.  Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine was obsessed with just the muffin tops?  That's what these muffins reminded me of!  You can bet that Elaine would be coveting these beauties.

You get four very generously sized muffins with this recipe which was the perfect amount for me to test and also enjoy.   One thing I noticed right off the bat was the intense, but not overpowering, lemon flavor in the muffin.  This comes from rubbing the fresh lemon zest with the granulated sugar, as well as the addition of fresh lemon juice and lemon oil.  The key to getting that beautiful rise on the muffins is to make sure your ingredients are at room temperature so that the batter is well mixed.  

As soon as the muffins came out of the oven I had to have a taste and I was definitely not disappointed.  They were delicious, moist, fluffy and above all, not too sweet!  I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.

September 20, 2020

Hot Air Balloon Onesie Cookie Favor

 

My dear friend Jesse is having her first baby this autumn and I was thrilled to make the favors for her socially-distanced baby shower.  Three years ago I made Jesse's wedding cake and cookie favors so I feel especially honored to play a part in another important milestone in her life. 

 

The onesie cookies I created were designed to complement the invitation, which featured the cutest hot air balloons for the "Oh, the places she'll go!" travel theme.  Jesse's girlfriends who planned the baby shower did such a fantastic job and everything looked beautiful.  Every detail was thought out, from the suitcase lunch boxes to the wicker hot air balloons filled with stuffed animals. 


I cannot wait to meet the little one in the coming months.  I predict she will be spoiled rotten, as she should be!!

Congratulations Jesse & Tyler!

September 10, 2020

Yellow Sheet Cake with Chocolate Frosting

 

September is my birthday month (along with seven other friends/family!) so I thought I'd make the quintessential cake to celebrate us Virgos.  When I was a kid my mom normally made us a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.   As a busy mother raising six children she used a boxed cake mix and pre-made frosting and we adored it!  Those memories are part of the reason why I think I still love cake mixes to this day.   There's no shame in getting a little help from Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, but when I saw that Cook's Illustrated's Sep/Oct 2020 issue featured a recipe for Yellow Sheet Cake with Chocolate Frosting I had to try the "from scratch" version of the birthday classic.

Granted, there are more ingredients required than the standard eggs, oil and water you would use with a boxed mix, but I think you'll find it's worth it.   There are quite a few eggs (4 whole + 2 yolks!) along with buttermilk in the batter which yields a rich and moist cake.  The batter is made using the reverse creaming method where the cake flour, leaveners and sugar are mixed first, then the fats (butter and oil) are added and finally the liquid and eggs are mixed in.  This technique minimizes gluten development which results in a super tender crumb.  

 

After having a slice I have to say this is probably one of the best homemade cake recipes I've ever tasted.  There's absolutely no pretense with this cake and that's what I love about it.  Makes me so nostalgic for my childhood; those were the days!

Sending a September birthday shout out to Len, Will, Satya, Nicholas, Maria, Brian and Cheri!

September 7, 2020

New England Lobster Rolls


Lobster rolls were never something I thought to make at home; they had that "restaurant-only" vibe to them I guess.   That all changed when I discovered that Trader Joe's was selling New England style hot dog buns.  The characteristic split-top is mandatory for an authentic New England Lobster Roll.  While this type of bun is ubiquitous on the East Coast, out here in California it's a rarity.   Even better, Trader Joe's buns were made with brioche dough so the bread was going to be extra rich and buttery!   With the proper bread vessel in hand there really was no excuse for me to not make lobster rolls, especially to close out the summer over Labor Day Weekend.

 

If you've had lobster rolls before you know they're definitely an indulgence.  One small roll can easily go for $25 and there's no guarantee you'll get a decent amount of meat.   By making the rolls at home I was able to pay less than half that cost and tailor it to my taste.

I've never cooked live lobsters before but it's super easy.  All you need is a big pot and boiling, salted water.  The only scary part was putting the live creatures into the boiling water!

 

For my rolls I went with this mayonnaise based recipe from A Family Feast.  I've had lobster rolls that were basically just lobster meat and melted butter, and that's not a bad thing!, but I just prefer a touch of mayonnaise and some chopped vegetables.  It goes without saying that the split-top bun must be pan fried on both sides with butter.  That's the signature of a truly delicious lobster roll.    

I invited my sister over for dinner and she raved about the lobster rolls.  That's a good sign in my family because compliments aren't handed out so easily.  Will I be making more lobster rolls in the future?  Definitely!  Now if only the price of fresh lobster would go down a bit.

September 4, 2020

Crème Fraîche Poundcake

I bought a carton of crème fraîche as an impulse buy on a recent Costco outing but I had no clue what I was going to use it for.  As fate would have it the NY Times recently published a recipe for Crème Fraîche Poundcake.  It's like the baking gods were in my brain!

Crème fraîche is similar to sour cream but I find it's more stable and less water than it's American cousin.  It adds a really delicious tang to the poundcake, most especially in the glaze topping.  I found the cake to be even more delicious the day after it was made so it's a great make-ahead recipe.  

August 22, 2020

Copycat Levain Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

 

I've never been to Levain Bakery in NYC but you can be sure that the next time I make it to Manhattan (hopefully soon!) it will be one of my first stops.  For this blog I've made a copycat of their famous chocolate chip walnut cookie before but when I saw a picture of these dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookies on Mike Johnson (Mike Bakes NYC) Instagram I knew they were going to be my next baking project.  

The stark contrast of tan peanut butter chips against the dark chocolate cookie was so beautiful and stunning.  It doesn't hurt that chocolate and peanut butter is one of my favorite combinations either.  Be forewarned though, the recipe yields just four cookies, but they are MASSIVE!   Size-wise they are not for the faint of heart.  The diameter measures approximately 4" across!   I suppose you could portion them out smaller than the suggested size but then they'd lose their "Levain-likeness."

It took some major willpower to wait for the baked cookies to cool slightly so I could have a taste but it was worth it.  The chocolate cookie flavor was deep, rich and not too sweet and perfectly complemented the bursts of peanut butter.  All it was screaming for was a glass of ice cold milk.

August 13, 2020

Freeze-Dried Berry No-Bake Cheesecake

 
I love the idea of no-bake desserts especially when it's hot outside because the last thing I want to do is turn on an oven.  When I saw this post on Serious Eats for a no-bake cheesecake that used freeze-dried fruit I was definitely intrigued.  I've made an icebox cheesecake before but I liked this recipe from Stella Parks because it used the freeze-dried fruits to infuse a fruity flavor, but sans the additional moisture that fresh fruit would bring. 
 
 
Luckily I had a bag of freeze-dried raspberries from Trader Joe's sitting in my pantry along with the other cheesecake ingredients to make half the recipe.  The recipe scaled down easily to fit a 9x5" loaf pan.  Since I'm trying to limit the number of trips I make to the grocery store it's always a plus when I have everything on hand.   
 
 
I had a taste of the filling as I was making the cheesecake and the intense raspberry flavor from the freeze-dried fruit was incredible.  It was literally a berry explosion.  Is it strange that it reminded me of fruit-flavored Starburst candies?  As a self-professed lover of the color pink this cheesecake also appealed to me aesthetically.  I could easily picture this dessert gracing the table at a baby shower or birthday party.  

August 5, 2020

Pastéis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts)


It was love at first bite when I tasted the famous Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon a few years ago. The combination of creamy, rich custard and crispy, flaky crust was too good to pass up.   I don't think I let a day go by during my stay in Portugal when I didn't indulge in those delicious pastries.


As a souvenir from my trips I brought back a few dozen pastel de nata tins with every intention of creating them at home.   Who would have known that two years later and I only managed one attempt at making the tarts.  Much to my disappointment the results I got were less than stellar, honestly they were crap, so I basically gave up.   I just couldn't seem to find a recipe that worked for the home kitchen.  That is, until now! 


The authentic recipe I had been looking for came by way of Jeremiah Duartes Bills, a Portuguese-American baker I follow on Instagram.  He was offering an online pastéis de nata class and I signed up immediately.  The format was a three hour virtual Zoom class where the students would bake alongside Jeremiah.  Although there were more than thirty five students the class still felt quite intimate and Jeremiah was a great instructor who answered our questions and proffered baking tips.  Three hours went by in a flash.

 
The recipe he used for the class was based on one he was taught in a pastel de nata workshop.  By the looks of my tarts and those of my fellow students I can happily report that his recipe really worked.  I couldn't believe how well they turned out, almost as if I was transported back to pastelharia Manteigaria in Chiado.  I sent pictures of my pastéis to a Portuguese colleague and even he said they looked like the real thing.  If that's not a seal of approval I don't know what is.   If you love pastéis de nata as much as I do I highly recommend you give this recipe a try and also take Jeremiah's class.  Trust me, you won't be disappointed.


Special obrigada to Jeremiah for the fantastic class and also giving me permission to share his pastéis de nata  recipe on my blog.  I hope he'll be offering more classes on Portuguese baking because I'll be one of the first to sign up.  Also, be on the lookout for his upcoming cookbook, "The Baking of Portugal."


August 1, 2020

Peach Streusel Cake


The yellow peaches at the farmer's market were looking especially nice so I had to make a repeat of the Summer Peach Cake, but this time with a twist.   The original Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for putting the oven roasted peaches in between the cake batter and then topping with fresh peach slices.  But after making the Blueberry Crumb Bars recently I had streusel on the brain and that's how I came up with this Peach Streusel Cake, a mash up of the two recipes.  I loved the idea of the crunchy topping to contrast the soft fruit.


It couldn't be simpler to make since there's no layering involved.  Make the streusel, roast some peach chunks, make the cake batter and then assemble.  Easy peasy!  For the cake in this post I made a 6-inch cake using 1/2 the cake recipe.  NOTE: For the streusel I made the full recipe but you won't use it all.  I just like having extra in the fridge to make more crumb bars or for other baking.  

Just as I had hoped the finished cake was really delicious.  You could easily serve it for breakfast but it's also nice as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche.  If you like peaches then this cake is for you.


July 23, 2020

Blueberry Crumb Bars


People sometimes ask where my baking inspirations come from and I wish I had a deeply profound or creative answer, but in truth often it's something as simple as timing.   That was exactly the naissance of why I made these Blueberry Crumb Bars.  Recently I was scrolling through Instagram and saw the bars posted on Smitten Kitchen's feed.   Fortuitously I had some blueberries in my fridge that were on their last leg.  See, it's all about the timing!

Although I only had enough blueberries to make half the recipe I didn't have any issues downsizing it into an 8-inch square pan.   It's also a win when you don't need any equipment to make the bars, just a bowl.  The recipe came together in no time at all.


For ease in cutting later on make sure you chill the bars in the fridge.  After photographing the bars for this blog I couldn't help myself and had to have a taste.  The first thing I noticed was the fresh burst of blueberry flavor, which actually made me think of pie but with a lot less work.  Anything with streusel is a win in my book and I like how the bars overall aren't too sweet. 

July 18, 2020

Scallion & Ham Bread




Scallion Bread is a staple item sold at most Chinese bakeries you come across.  My favorite place in San Francisco to get them is Sunset Bakery in the Inner Sunset District.   There they add bits of ham to their scallion buns which are, in my opinion, the ne plus ultra: incredibly delicious, super soft and beautifully browned.  Since they're so easy to buy I never really thought of making it at home, that is, until I saw this post on Healthy Nibbles blog.  Lisa's bread looked exactly like Sunset Bakery's so I had to give it a try for myself.



The dough uses tangzhong, or a roux made of milk and flour, which gives the baked bread a lovely, soft texture.  In my experience any bread using this technique always turns out amazing.  The main modifications I made to Lisa's recipe were to replace the water in the tangzhong with milk, use instant yeast and add pieces of chopped ham.  


I made the recipe twice in a week so trust me when I say it's a good one.  The first time I shaped the dough into a very large four-strand braid.  For the second I shaped it into smaller knots because I wanted individual portions.   You wouldn't believe how excited I was that the bread turned out completely authentic!   Another plus is that it freezes beautifully so I can enjoy this yummy treat anytime I want.

July 11, 2020

Financiers


I've had leftover egg whites sitting in my fridge for a few weeks now and I finally got fed up looking at them and decided to make something.  But what?  Macarons would be the obvious choice but I was too lazy to deal with the lengthy process of making and piping the batter, the drying time and then filling the cookies.  I was after something quick, easy and delicious - cue the Financiers!

These little French almond cakes have a delicious nutty bite and texture and go perfectly with a cup of coffee or tea.  I used a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that was super easy to come together in one bowl.  The only "tedious" thing was to make the brown butter and that took no time at all. 

Normally the cakes are baked in rectangular molds so that they resemble gold bars, which is where the "financier" name comes from but not everyone has those specialty molds.  I like this version that uses a mini muffin pan.   The financiers were delicious plain but I jazzed mine up by topping them with fresh raspberries, blueberries and chocolate chunks. 

NOTE: You can make this gluten-free by replacing the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour.

July 5, 2020

Triple Berry Brita Cake


Rarely does a dessert exceed my expectations but I have to admit that this Triple Berry Brita Cake had me smitten at first bite.  I initially spotted this cake on Jenn Yee's Instagram and was immediately obsessed with the combination of cake and pavlova.   The recipe for this beauty comes from Susan Spungen's Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings and can be found online here.


Apparently brita cake has Nordic origins but in all the years I've visited Norway I don't think I've ever tasted it.  I can't believe what I was missing!  Pavlovas are one of my favorite summertime desserts so how excited was I find discover a dessert that added cake to the mix?  


This cake is so good that I actually made it twice in two days.  The first cake I brought along to a 4th of July BBQ and the second cake was to photograph for the blog, but I only made half the recipe which fit a loaf pan perfectly.  

I strayed slightly from the original recipe when it came to the cream toppings  I didn't have any creme fraiche so I increased the amount of heavy cream to a total of 2 cups and added some vanilje-sukker (vanilla sugar) that I picked up on previous trips to Norway.
 

The combination of moist, yellow cake and crispy meringue topped with fresh vanilla whipped cream and strawberries, blueberries and raspberries is absolutely amazing.  It's pure symphony I tell you!  It couldn't be easier to make so I highly encourage you to make this fruity dessert to really showcase summer's best berries.



June 19, 2020

Hummingbird Cake


Can you believe this is the first time I've ever made a Hummingbird Cake?  I'd heard of this Southern dessert before but never actually got around to trying it for myself.  Ironic if you think about it because it contains so many things that I love: bananas, pineapple and pecans.


I found a no-fuss recipe from Cook's Country and decided to turn it into a bundt cake rather than the traditional layer.  I adore anything pineapple and what I love about this recipe is that the pineapple flavor is really amplified by reducing the juice to a concentrate. 


To finish the cake I made a simple icing using powdered sugar, pineapple juice and a drop or two of yellow food color.  It definitely has a technicolor effect, but I actually kind of like that!

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