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 purée, 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!

May 10, 2022

The Folding Lady's One Pan Brownies

 

If you're not already following The Folding Lady on Instagram, you need to!  Sophie Liard gained a huge following during the early days of the pandemic when she posted videos of herself folding clothes.  The videos went viral and many social media posts later she's got hundreds of thousands of followers and recently published her first book.  Call me strange, or a Virgo!, but I find it so therapeutic and satisfying to watch her expert folding.

In addition to the folding, Sophie has also posted several food recipes on her account.  In particular, this one for One Pan Brownies immediately caught my eye.  I love a recipe that is simple as can be,  made in one pan and delivers.  I embellished the recipe by adding streaks of dulce de leche to the top of the brownie batter before baking.   They tasted amazing, but next time I think I'll also add a layer of the milk caramel in the middle!

March 12, 2022

Hidden Rainbow Cake

 
 
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day I present to you a Hidden Rainbow Cake by way of Buttermilk by Sam.  Don't you just love how the vibrant colors look against the white cake?  There was definitely some trepidation on my part when I cut that first slice as I wondered if the hidden design would actually come through.  Although it did, I wish the rainbow itself would have been suspended more in the middle of the cake.  Oh well, something to strive for the next time I make this cake!


The cake itself is a real winner too, with a tender crumb and the most delicious vanilla flavor.  Never one to need an excuse to buy another cake pan I baked the cake in this ring mold, per the recommendation of the recipe's creator.   My theory is that the rainbow didn't bake in the center of the cake because I didn't put enough of the white batter in the bottom of the mold, which meant too much batter was leftover at the bottom.  As I re-read the previous sentence it sounds totally confusing, but if you just remember that the top of the baked cake is actually the bottom of the ring mold it will start to make some sense.  


I can envision many variations of this hidden design cake; don't limit yourself to just a rainbow.  You could tint the design using one color, but make it with an ombré effect, from lighter to darker tones.  Whatever colors you end up choosing I can guarantee that it will impress whoever eats this cake!

March 8, 2022

Goose Feet Cookies

 

Baking has always been a place of solace and comfort for me. I often joke that it's cheaper than seeing a therapist, but it's really true!  During those times where I need to find a sense of calm and peace baking is what I inevitably end up doing.  Dorie Greenspan recently posted a recipe for Goose Feet Cookies, a cookie with Russian-Ukranian origins.  Given the tragedy that's currently unfolding in Eastern Europe right now I felt especially compelled to make these.    

 
 
I'd never heard of goose feet cookies before but I'm so glad I know of them now because they are incredibly delicious.  Even better, they are the simplest cookies to make by hand.   The one ingredient that you may have to do some searching for is farmer's cheese, a fresh curd cheese.  Luckily I live close to a Russian market and had no trouble procuring some, but if it's not so easy for you try using drained cottage cheese.


The dough reminded me of pie crust and was very easy to work with.  To get the super flaky, buttery and crispy layers I highly recommend rolling out the dough as thinly as possible, and I mean VERY thin!  The only sugar in the cookie is what is used to coat the dough rounds.  

I'm not joking when I say I easily polished off a dozen of the cookies in one sitting.   They are so moreish that you can't stop yourself from eating just one or two.  

March 5, 2022

Toasted Almond Cake

 

I saw a picture of this Toasted Almond Cake on Cook's Country's Instagram account a few weeks ago and immediately saved it because I knew I wanted to make it.  What drew me in was the caramelized almond exterior.  Plus, the idea of fluffy cake layers filled with almond flavored pastry cream sounded fantastic too.
 
 
Instead of the white cake layers that were called for in the original recipe I used CI's Yellow Sheet Cake recipe, baked in three 8" cake rounds.  Pastry cream is used for the filling and the exterior of the cake is frosted with a German buttercream (butter and pastry cream whipped together).  I found the German buttercream to be a bit too fussy so the next time I make this cake I'll use my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream instead.  The toasted and caramelized almonds are the final decoration and really complete the cake.    

Think this might be a new favorite of mine.  The tender, fluffy cake combined with the pastry cream filling and nutty exterior is a real winner.


February 16, 2022

Pretty in Pink Confetti Cake

 

Doesn't this Pretty in Pink Confetti Cake just bring a smile to your face?  It just screams Festive! and Fun!, right?  I made this beauty for my friend's birthday using Cake By Courtney's white vanilla cake recipe and then adding rainbow sprinkles to the batter.  Note: I baked the cake layers using three 6-inch round pans and had enough batter leftover for six cupcakes.  For the frosting I used my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream recipe. 
 

February 11, 2022

Valentine's Day Italian Rainbow Cookies

 

Having grown up in Manhattan my friend Maria would rave about the delicious cookies and desserts she would get when she was a kid, but couldn't find in the Bay Area after having moved to California decades ago.  One of her favorites were rainbow cookies, also known as tricolor or seven-layer cookies that were sold at all the Italian bakeries.  I'd never paid much attention to rainbow cookies before because I was team black & white cookie (after watching that famous Seinfeld episode). Never one to pass on a delicious cookie I was open to giving them a try.
 
 
On a recent trip to NYC I made sure to get my hands on some rainbow cookies so that I could have a taste for myself.  Per Maria's recommendation I headed to Veniero's Pasticceria & Caffe, in the Lower East Side, who are famous for their rainbows.   While the cookies were delicious, at $22 a pound (cookies are sold by weight), I thought they were a bit on the expensive side.  When I got back to San Francisco I challenged myself to come up with a worthy replica.
 

I had made rainbow cookies once before, but because the results were less than stellar I never made them again.  Maria had success with this NY Times recipe and so I gave it a try.  With February 14th just around the corner I thought it was a great excuse to make Valentine's Day Italian Rainbow Cookies in pink tones.  
 
A word of caution though if you decide to make them: while the cookies taste really delicious, the process to make them is rather tedious and you end up with quite a lot of dirty dishes to contend with.  I don't see myself making rainbow cookies often, but I would definitely make them for holidays and special occasions.

February 1, 2022

Year of the Tiger Shortbread

 

Tết 2022 marks the Year of the Tiger, which is especially poignant for me because that is my animal sign.   People born in a year of the tiger are known to be brave, competitive, unpredictable, charming and well-liked by others.  However, sometimes they are likely to be impetuous, irritable and overindulgent. I'll leave it to those who know me well to decide if they recognize these characteristics in me.

To celebrate the Lunar New Year I made some these Tiger Shortbread which I'll hand out to family and friends.  The recipe I used is a clotted cream shortbread which I especially love because it does a fantastic job of keeping the intricate designs of your design intact.  I saved two tubs of Rodda's clotted cream that I got in London specifically for this purpose.  Fresh clotted cream is difficult to find in the States (which is why I bring it back from England) so you can just substitute butter in its place. The tiger cookie cutter I purchased from Amazon.  

Wishing you all a healthy, safe and prosperous Year of the Tiger!  

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới 2022!

January 14, 2022

Pineapple Cream Cheese Danish Braid

 

Sometimes a craving strikes me and I have to make it as soon as possible.  That's what happened the other week when all I could think about was a Cream Cheese Pineapple Danish Braid.  I'm a total sucker for anything pineapple because it's my all-time favorite fruit. 
 

For the Danish dough I used a recipe that I've made before on this blog.  It's super simple and requires no electric appliance whatsoever, just your hands.  For the cream cheese and pineapple fillings I used these recipes.

The only caveat I would say when it comes to making any kind of laminated dough is to be prepared for quite a bit of non-activity.  There's a lot of down time involved because the dough needs to chill in between all the turns and also proof just before baking.  In total, the process to make this particular braid spanned three days. 

 

January 8, 2022

Clementine Cake

 

I'm not one to make any resolutions when a new year is upon us, but this year I decided to make an intention.  Who knows if intentions are that much different to resolutions, but I tell myself they are...hahaha.  My intention for 2022 is to be less wasteful, particularly when it comes to food.  Before the pandemic I was always binning food that had expired or was spoiled.  Often times it was because I'd forgotten about it or was just too lazy to cook or bake.    

Out of necessity, especially in the early part of the pandemic in 2020, I was forced to change this behavior.  When we were essentially in lock down I wasn't frequenting the stores as I normally would.  Plus, certain ingredients were out of stock so I had to make do with what I already had.  Pre-planning and creativity, I think, are key to this strategy.

With that mindset I made this Clementine Cake.  I'd been staring at the same bowl of clementines since the holidays that were close to their last legs.  The fruits were too dry to eat on their own so I had to think of a way to use them up.  Guilt prevented me from tossing them in the compost bin.  Initially I'd considered making marmalade, but upon realizing how much time (and sugar) went into the process I quickly changed my mind.  I vaguely remembered watching an episode of Nigella Lawson where she made a clementine cake using every bit of the fruit, skin and all.  Sounded perfect to me! 


The recipe can be easily found on the internet and I had all the ingredients (clementines, almond flour, sugar, eggs and baking powder) on hand.  The only changes I made to Nigella's recipe were to  microwave the fruit for five minutes, instead of boiling it on the stove for 2 hours!, and also adding kosher salt and sliced almonds.  
 
There was definitely some skepticism on my part about how good this cake would taste given how simple it was to make, but one bite and I was a convert.  Nigella claimed this cake would be super moist and taste as if it had been soaked in syrup.  She wasn't lying.  You wouldn't believe the texture; not  mushy at all and it had a custard-like texture.  It actually reminded me of the cakes you would find at a breakfast buffet in an Italian hotel or bed & breakfast.   It needs no embellishment other than a light dusting of powdered sugar.  So delicious!

January 5, 2022

Mardi Gras King Cake

 

 January 6 marks Epiphany (sometimes called Three King's Day) in the Catholic faith.   When I was a student living in Dijon I came to learn that the French celebrate this holiday by enjoying galette des rois throughout the month.   Because I've already made that puff pastry and frangipane treat before I wanted to try my luck at making this Mardi Gras King Cake from Murmurs of Ricotta's blog.  This year Mardi Gras falls on March 1st, but King Cake can be enjoyed starting at Epiphany.

 


Although I've never visited Louisiana or New Orleans before (it's on my list!) I have actually tasted a traditional NOLA king cake before.  A former co-worker of mine grew up in Louisiana and her mom used to send her a king cake every year.   The "cake" is actually an enriched bread, filled with cinnamon and frosted and decorated with purple, gold and green sprinkles.  I think it tastes similar to a cinnamon roll.   What intrigued me about this recipe in particular was the claim that it was soft and fluffy and inspired by the in-demand cakes sold at Dong Phuong, a popular Vietnamese French bakery in New Orleans East.
 
 
The enriched dough couldn't be easier to make, but it does require some patience, as it needs to proof in the fridge at least overnight.  When forming the king cake be sure to roll out the dough evenly, otherwise you'll end up with a plump middle section and skinny ends, like I did.  My King Cake really lived up to the fat moniker of Mardi "Gras".  Still tasted great though!  Just as the blog described, the brioche-bread was soft and fluffy, and quite delicious.   
 
The hardest part was waiting for the cake to cool completely before frosting it with the brown butter cream cheese frosting.  A final flourish of Mardi Gras colored sprinkles and the King Cake was complete.  NOTE: For some reason my purple non-pareils look more indigo in these pictures, but I can assure you they are purple!
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