Apple Butter Bundt Cake

apple butter bundt cake

I made this little bundt cake for one of our Sunday family dinners. It was a snap to put together — no mixer required! no softening of butter! — and had a lovely soft texture that complemented the warm fall spices. The original recipe called for applesauce, but apple butter worked perfectly as a substitute (as would pumpkin puree, I suspect). The cake also keeps beautifully — I sneaked a piece a few days later and it was still just as moist as the first day. I have a bit of apple butter left, so this is on my re-make list — perhaps sneaking in some whole grain flour and swapping the allspice for cardamom or nutmeg (though the amount of spice here is perfect in my opinion).

apple butter bundt cake slice

Apple Butter Bundt Cake

Adapted from Food 52 | Makes one 6-cup bundt (6-8 servings)

Ingredients:

For the bundt cake:

  • 120g AP flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 65g granulated sugar
  • 65g light brown sugar
  • 180g apple butter
  • 1/3 c vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze:

  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 Tbsp salted caramel sauce or maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream, plus more if needed

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 6-cup bundt pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour through allspice). In a large bowl, whisk together egg and sugars until light. Whisk in the apple butter, oil, and vanilla until smooth.
  3. Using a silicone spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  4. Cool cake for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Cool cake completely before glazing.
  5. When the cake is cool, prepare the glaze. Combine the cream cheese, salted caramel sauce, and salt in a food processor until smooth. With the processor running, drizzle in the cream. Add cream 1 tsp at a time until desired consistency is achieved. Transfer glaze to a small ziplock bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe the glaze over the cake.

Maple Eclairs

maple eclairs

I’m relatively new to choux. I never had much interest in cream puffs and eclairs, because most of the ones I’d eaten before were just doughy puffs filled with whipped cream and unceremoniously dusted with icing sugar. I’d much prefer a slice of pie or cake, and being lactose-intolerant I’d rather suffer for eating ice cream over whipped cream.

But earlier this year I made choux pastry for the first time and I realized, this is really fun. Maybe I’m a little weird (ok, not maybe), but I find making choux very relaxing. I enjoy watching the dough transform from a curdled mess into a smooth paste and trying to pipe uniform shells. And it’s super satisfying seeing those doughy lines transform into light, airy shells ready to be filled with whatever your heart desires (though my 2-year-old will gladly gobble them up plain).

choux pastry

When the Maple Guild sent me a bottle of their organic bourbon barrel aged maple syrup to try, I thought an eclair would be a fun way to highlight the pure deliciousness of maple. Maple is definitely the star of this dessert, so please use the best quality syrup you can find!

A few notes:

  • The ingredient list and instructions may look long, but you can easily break the work up over a few days. I suggest making the pastry cream and praline first, as those can both be held in the fridge for a few days. Make the choux the day you plan to serve these eclairs.
  • If you’re new to choux pastry, I highly recommend reading this tutorial for choux tips! This is the recipe I’ve had best success using, though I’ve made a couple of changes (salt content and baking temperatures).
  • I typically make pastry cream with whole milk, but because we’re using a liquid sweetener (maple syrup), I’ve used part heavy cream for a thicker final texture. If you use all milk the final product may be a little looser and you’ll need to spoon the cream into the shells rather than pipe it.
  • I really like adding a crunchy element to eclairs (in this case, the praline) to add texture. If you’re pressed for time, I think a sprinkling of crushed pretzels would work well — something with a bit of salt to balance out the sweetness of the maple. If you go the pretzel route, add it right before serving or it’ll get soggy.

filled eclairs

Maple Eclairs

Makes 12 4-inch eclairs

Ingredients

For the Choux Pastry:

  • 75g water
  • 75g milk
  • 75g butter
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 100g bread flour, sifted
  • 150g eggs (about 3 large), room temperature and lightly beaten
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

For the Maple Pastry Cream:

  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 1 c whole milk
  • 1/3 c maple syrup
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 25g custard powder (or cornstarch)
  • 25g flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp maple extract (optional)
  • 28g unsalted butter, softened

For the Almond Praline:

  • 150g toasted almonds, chopped
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • Flaky sea salt

For the Maple Cream Cheese Glaze:

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp maple syrup
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cream, plus more if needed

Method:


For the choux pastry:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a ruler to draw twelve 4-inch lines, spaced by about 2 inches, to serve as a piping guide. Flip the parchment over so you don’t get pen/marker on your pastry.
  2. Combine the water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a strong simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as the mixture is simmering, remove the pot from the heat and dump the flour in all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is completely incorporated.
  3. Return the pot to low heat and continue stirring until the mixture forms a ball and a thin film forms on the bottom of the pot, 1-2 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should read 170F. Immediately transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  4. Mix the dough on low speed for a couple of minutes to release the steam. An instant-read thermometer should read no warmer than 140F (any hotter and you’ll cook the eggs when adding them!). When the dough has cooled sufficiently and with the mixer still on low, add about half of the eggs. Mix until the egg has been completely absorbed, then add more egg about a tablespoon at a time, mixing completely before adding more. When you’ve added most of the egg, check the dough consistency — a finger dragged through it should leave a trough and a peak of dough should form where the finger is lifted. Once the dough passes this test, it’s ready. (You may not need all the egg.)
  5. Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with an open star tip. Pipe the eclairs onto the prepared sheet. Once all the eclairs are piped, dust them with icing sugar.
  6. Bake the eclairs for 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375F and continue baking until the shells are puffed and a deep golden brown — about another 20-30 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet after about 30 minutes total baking time — avoid opening the oven door any sooner, or your shells may collapse. After the shells are finished but still hot, pierce the bottoms with a skewer or paring knife and return to the turned-off oven for 10 minutes to allow the steam to escape and the insides to dry out (prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon). Transfer shells to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before glazing and filling.

For the maple pastry cream:

  1. Combine the milk, cream, and maple syrup in a medium saucepan.
  2. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Whisk in a ladleful of the milk mixture.
  3. Bring the milk mixture just to the boil over medium heat. Meanwhile, sift the custard powder and flour over the yolk mixture, and whisk until smooth.
  4. When the milk is just at boiling, remove from the heat. Add a ladleful of the hot milk mixture to the yolks, whisking continuously. Pour the remaining milk mixture into the yolks in a slow, steady stream, continuing to whisk constantly. Once all the milk has been added, transfer the entire mixture back to the saucepan over low heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Continue cooking over low heat for one minute after the mixture starts bubbling, then strain into a clean container. Whisk in the extracts and butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold before using.

For the almond praline:

  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat. Have a silicon spatula, your chopped almonds, and flaky sea salt ready to go.
  2. Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan and turn the heat to medium. Cook without stirring (occasionally swirling the pan is fine), until the sugar melts and eventually turns a deep amber color. Once the sugar is caramelized, remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the almonds to coat. Quickly pour the mixture onto the prepared sheet pan and spread it as thinly as possible with your spatula (don’t touch, trust me — it’ll hurt). Immediately sprinkle with a generous amount of flaky sea salt. Allow to cool completely before breaking into pieces, either with a mallet or food processor. Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer; or you can grind the remainder into praline paste.

For the maple cream cheese glaze:

  • Combine the cream cheese, maple syrup, and salt in a food processor and process until smooth. Add cream a teaspoon at a time until the glaze is thick and spreadable.

To assemble the maple eclairs:

  1. Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and whisk to loosen. Transfer the cream to a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip (alternatively, you can just spoon the cream in).
  2. Using a sharp serrated knife, trim off the top third of the eclair shells and set aside. Remove any soft bits from inside the shells. Pipe the cream into the bottom of the shells.
  3. Spread roughly a tablespoon of glaze onto the top of each shell. Place the tops back on the filled shells and garnish with almond praline. Refrigerate until serving — these really are best within a few hours of filling, though if you have to hold them longer wait until the last minute to add the praline.

maple eclairs on plate

Instant Pot Apple Butter

apple butter

Over the past few years, apple picking has become an early fall tradition. It started five years ago as a date activity with my now-husband, and this year the apple farm was one of our brand-new daughter’s first excursions.

apple farm trip

(This was actually our second trip this year; Marcus liked the last trip so much he kept asking to see “apple trees.”)

Besides pies and galettes, I also enjoy making a batch or two of apple butter with our pickings. I far prefer apple butter to applesauce — it’s thick enough to spread on toast and is generally more flavorful. Apple butter is also a handy ingredient to have around for fall baking, as I’m discovering (recipes to come!). Whipping up a batch does take some time, but it’s mostly hands-off and makes your house smell perfectly autumnal — a great rainy day project!

I used our Instant Pot to make this year’s batch. (Not sponsored — we really do love this gadget!) While my method doesn’t save much time on traditional apple butter-making methods, I do think it’s easier and dirties fewer dishes. It’s definitely how I’m making apple butter from here on out!

A few notes:

  • You can use any variety (or varieties) of apples. I used a mix of Macintoshes and Cortlands for this particular batch.
  • Feel free to add different / more spices to your liking. I kept this batch pretty light on spice since I knew I would be using it in some baking recipes.
  • If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can make this using the stovetop and oven or a slow cooker.
  • If you’re pressed for time, you could use the “saute” setting instead of “slow cook” in step 2 to reduce the puree down (it should take 45-60 minutes), but the butter does tend to splatter and requires more constant stirring / attention.

Instant Pot Apple Butter

Makes about 3 pints

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 lbs apples, cored and quartered (no need to peel)
  • 1/4 c water or apple juice
  • 100-200 g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • A few gratings of fresh nutmeg

Method

  1. Place the apples and water/juice in the Instant Pot and cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally. Puree contents using an immersion blender / regular blender / food processor.
  2. Return puree to the Instant Pot. With the lid propped open for steam ventilation, cook — stirring occasionally — on the slow cooker setting until thick and reduced, about 6 hours. Add sugar and spices, adjusting to taste (I used about 3/4 c sugar for a gently sweetened butter).
  3. For smoothest texture, puree contents again. Ladle apple butter into clean, sterile jars. Process in a water bath, if desired, or store in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks. Apple butter can also be frozen.

Apple Frangipane Galette with Salted Caramel

Thanks to moving, prepping for baby #2, and some unusually mild Canadian weather, this summer has disappeared just like that. I can’t say I’m sad about it. While there’s nothing like summer produce, fall is by far my favorite season. I love the crisp mornings, changing colors, and chunky sweaters.

Oh, and apple pie.

I don’t usually make my first apple dessert until a little later in the year. But last week I took my little guy to a nearby farm, and to my surprise they had a couple varieties of apples ready for picking. I couldn’t resist taking home a small bag full of Zestars! (yes, the “!” is an official part of its name), which I’d never tasted before but read were good for eating and baking. And they are lovely — mildly tart and crisp with a firm texture that holds up well in the oven.

I didn’t quite have enough apples for a full-on pie, but these babies were just begging to be baked up in a buttery crust. (OK, maybe that was me begging.) And so this galette was born.

I know galettes are supposed to be unfussy and casual; and the many components of this one may be off-putting. But seriously. I think this is one of the best apple desserts I’ve ever made, and it really looks harder than it is. You could definitely use store bought salted caramel sauce if you wanted, but it’s so delicious and easy to make yourself that you really won’t regret cooking up a batch. (Plus, this recipe makes more than enough for the galette so you’ll have extra for stirring into coffee, drizzling over ice cream, or just eating from the jar.) I’m also having a moment with frangipane — not only is it just plain delicious, but in the case of a galette it acts as a moisture barrier, keeping the bottom crust beautifully crisp.

Speaking of the crust — it may sound weird to use sourdough starter in a pastry recipe, but trust me, it’s delicious! I really do believe sourdough adds a depth of flavor to pie crust; and if your starter is healthy and fresh you shouldn’t notice any tang. But if you don’t have sourdough starter lying around, you can certainly use your favorite pie crust recipe instead.

Apple Frangipane Galette with Salted Caramel

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

For the sourdough crust (makes enough for 2 galettes):

  • 300g flour (I use 100g whole grain, 200g AP)
  • 227g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 200g ripe sourdough starter, cold (100% hydration)
  • 2 Tbsp cold milk or water

For the salted caramel sauce:

  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 54g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

For the frangipane:

  • 95g almond flour
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 20g flour (AP or whole grain)
  • 30g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

For the fruit:

  • 3 medium-large baking apples, cored, peeled, and thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp AP flour
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/4 c salted caramel sauce

To finish:

  • 1 Tbsp cream
  • 1 Tbsp coarse sugar
  • Salted caramel sauce

Method

For the sourdough crust:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the cubed butter and smash into flat pieces with your fingers, tossing to distribute evenly. Don’t overwork — you want to keep the butter pieces fairly large (nickel to quarter size) for flakiness.
  2. Use a fork to whisk the cold milk/water and starter together. Pour the wet mixture over the butter-flour mixture and, using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, gently toss to combine. The dough will seem shaggy at first, but should hold together if you squeeze it. If not, dribble in additional cold water/milk a teaspoon at a time (tossing after each addition) until it does.
  3. Using the heel of your hand, take handfuls of dough and smear them up the side of the bowl (this “fraisage” method creates streaks of butter that makes for an extra flaky crust). Once all the dough has been smeared, divide the in half and gently press and flatten each portion into a circle. Wrap one half in plastic and chill or freeze for a future galette or pie. If your remaining dough feels at all soft or melty at this point, wrap it in plastic and chill for about 10 minutes before proceeding (you want it cold, but not hard).
  4. On a piece of floured parchment paper or Silpat, roll the dough into a circle about 12-14 inches in diameter, about 1/4-in thick. Roll from the middle and rotate the dough about 1/4 turn between rolls to help keep the shape and even thickness. Flour your pin and dough as needed to avoid sticking. When you’re done rolling, transfer the dough still on the parchment/Silpat to a sheet pan, cover with plastic, and chill for at least 2 hours before assembling the galette.

For the salted caramel sauce:

  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the sugar over medium-high heat. Swirl the pan occasionally for even heating.
  2. When the sugar reaches a copper color, remove it from the heat and add the salt and butter, whisking continuously. Be careful as the mixture will bubble up! Return the pot to medium-low heat and whisk for a minute or so.
  3. Still continuously whisking, add the cream in a slow, steady stream — again, taking caution as the mixture will bubble and rise. Continue whisking over medium-low heat to thicken the mixture slightly.
  4. Remove from the heat and transfer to a heat-safe container. Once cool, cover and refrigerate. Sauce will thicken as it cools. Rewarm in the microwave for about 20 seconds for easy pouring.

For the frangipane:

  • Whisk together the flours, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Rub the butter in with your fingers until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the egg and vanilla and mix with a spatula to combine.

For the fruit:

  • Juice the lemon into a medium bowl and add the apple slices, tossing to coat. Add the sugar, flour, and cinnamon and toss to combine.

To assemble:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge. Spread the frangipane evenly in a circle in the center of the pastry, leaving a 1.5-2 inch border. Starting from the outermost edge of the frangipane, arrange the apple slices in concentric, overlapping circles. Fold the edges of the pastry over the filling to create a crust. Refrigerate the galette for 15-20 minutes to firm the pastry.
  2. When the pastry is firm, brush the crust with the heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Drizzle 1/4 c of salted caramel sauce over the apples (not on the crust). Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the pastry is a deep, golden brown and the apples are bubbling. Transfer to a cooling rack. Serve at room temperature with extra salted caramel sauce.

Soft and Chewy Sourdough Pretzels

I have a soft spot for pretzels. I don’t know how it started; it’s not like we ate pretzels that often growing up. But every time I see pretzels on a menu there’s a good chance I’ll order them; and if I attend a baseball game I’m more likely to get a pretzel than a hot dog. What can I say? I have a weakness for warm, chewy carbs.

Making sourdough pretzels has been on my to-do list for awhile; and after quite a few batches I’ve finally come up with a version that I’m pretty pleased with. For awhile I was tinkering with an authentic pretzel recipe, which produces a more chewy and dense product. Call me inauthentic, but I like my pretzels a bit softer — so the recipe here reflects that. If you prefer a denser pretzel, you can use the ingredients below but skip the bulk rise — divide right after mixing, let the dough rest for 45 minutes, shape the pretzels, and refrigerate overnight. Then proceed with baking as directed below.

One final thing — I would love to try making lye-dipped pretzels because I hear it’s the bee’s knees, but I can’t find a reasonably priced source for food grade lye in Toronto (ordering online will cost me about $70). One day I’ll find a way to do it, but for now baked baking soda is my dip of choice. Just spread out a box of baking soda on a baking sheet at bake at 250F for an hour, then store in an airtight container to use whenever your pretzel cravings hit.

Soft and Chewy Sourdough Pretzels

Makes 8 | Adapted from various sources, including Tasting Table and The Fresh Loaf

For the dough:

  • 175g Pilsner-style beer (room temperature is fine)
  • 120g mature sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 14g barley malt syrup (or honey)
  • 30g lard (or softened butter)
  • 360g flour (I use half bread, half all purpose)
  • 8g sea salt

To finish:

  • 1/4 c baked baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 Tbsp milk/water (for egg wash)
  • Pretzel salt / flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Method

Day 1:

  1. Combine the beer, starter, barley malt syrup, and lard in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the liquid mixture and stir to combine with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Knead, by hand or with the dough hook in a stand mixer, until the dough is smooth and the gluten is well developed (about 10 minutes with a mixer, longer if by hand). The dough is fairly stiff and should be slightly tacky, but not sticky.
  3. Transfer the dough to an clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours, folding once an hour. Refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours).

Day 2:

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the center and oil a large sheet pan.
  2. On a clean work surface, divide and round the dough into 8 equal portions, about 85g each.
  3. To shape, flatten a round into a rough rectangle about 3″ x 5″. Starting from a long edge, roll the rectangle up into a tight log and pinch to seal the seam. Roll the log out to about 12 inches and set aside to relax while you repeat the process with the remaining rounds.
  4. Once all the rounds have been initially rolled out, return to the first log and continue rolling it out into a rope roughly 26 inches long, tapering the ends slightly. If you’re having trouble getting enough traction, lightly mist your work surface with water (you don’t want to use flour, which will actually make it harder to roll out the dough).
  5. Form the rope into a “U” shape. Holding the ends, twist together twice about 3-inches from the ends, then fold the ends down and press them into the “U” at about 4 and 8 o’clock. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
  6. When all the pretzels are formed, fill a large pot with 8 cups of water (I like to use the leftovers from the can of beer used to make the dough, plus enough water to equal 8 cups). Stir in the baked baking soda, then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the baking soda is dissolved.
  7. Once the liquid is simmering, turn the heat down to medium to maintain a gentle simmer. Use a slotted spoon to dip the pretzels in one or two at a time for about 20 seconds each. Remove the dipped pretzels from the liquid, drain, and return to the baking sheet, spacing at least an inch apart.
  8. Brush the pretzels with egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, make about a 1-inch long slash at the thickest part of each pretzel (the bottom of the “U”).
  9. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, or until pretzels are well browned. Transfer pretzels to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before serving. Pretzels taste best within an hour of baking, but leftovers can be wrapped tightly with plastic and frozen for up to a month. Reheat for about 10 minutes in a 350F oven.

Cherry Berry Almond Crumble

cherry berry almond crumble

Every summer I tend to have a fall-back dessert: something quick and simple that can easily be adapted to whatever fresh fruit is hanging out in the fridge. Previously there’s been cobbler and fruit crumb bars; and this year it’s a good old fashioned crumble.

cherries

It’s about as unfussy and simple as it gets: toss fruit with a little sugar and spice, and mix up a quick, buttery crumb to sprinkle on top. No softening of butter or mixer needed. Eat with yogurt for breakfast or ice cream for dessert, warm or cold. Repeat.

cherry berry almond crumble 2

Cherry Berry Almond Crumble

Makes one 8×8 pan

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • ~6 c cherries and/or berries, pitted and sliced/halved if necessary (I used equal parts sour cherries, sweet cherries, and strawberries)
  • 60-100g / 1/3-1/2 c sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit and preferably a mix of brown and granulated
  • Pinch of salt
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime
  • 3 Tbsp arrowroot or tapioca starch

For the almond crumble:

  • 120g / 1 c AP flour
  • 4T almond flour
  • 113g / 8 Tbsp butter, cold and diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 50g / 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 25g / scant 2 Tbsp granulated sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Stir together all filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside while you prepare the crumble.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk together all crumble ingredients except for the butter. Add the butter and, using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture begins forming crumbs. Squeeze the mixture together to form large clumps.
  4. Pour the filling into an 8×8 square pan. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the top.
    Bake until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown, about 35-45 minutes. Allow to cool for about an hour before serving, if you can.

Berry Mascarpone Tart with Almond Crumble

berry mascarpone tart with hand

I’ve been making a lot of tarts lately, partially because all my pie plates are currently packed away in preparation for our move in a couple weeks — but also because they’re just so fun, elegant, and easy. Tarts are a good vehicle for using up those bits of leftover curd, fruit, jam, etc. in the fridge. This berry mascarpone tart was no exception. I had a little bit of mascarpone left over from all the wedding cake adventures earlier this month, so I added it to some pastry cream and it was soooo good! Creamy but not too heavy and perfect with some fresh berries — basically, an ideal summer dessert.

The tart crust is similar to the one I posted a couple weeks ago, though the proportions are courtesy of Pierre Herme. A little almond flour adds wonderful flavor and slightly crisper texture. I prepared the crust the same way I did the last (mixing in food processor, rolling out right after mixing and freezing the dough in the pan before baking), and it worked like a charm. To add a little texture I mixed up a little almond crumble, because crumbs just make everything better.

One last thing: if you’ve enjoyed reading Cook Til Delicious this year, would you consider nominating it for a Saveur Blog Award? You can nominate for any category you think appropriate, though I’d love votes for Best Baking & Sweets Blog (use URL http://www.cooktildelicious.com) or Best Food Instagram (http://www.instagram.com/rushyama). Your support really means a lot to me. Thank you!

berry mascarpone tart no crumb

berry mascarpone tart

Berry Mascarpone Tart with Almond Crumble

Makes one 9-inch tart

Ingredients

For the Almond Pate Sucree (makes enough for 2 tart shells):
Adapted from Pierre Herme

  • 245g AP flour
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 50g almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 143g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature

For the Mascarpone Cream:
Adapted from Bake from Scratch

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 55g / 1/4 c firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 24g / 3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 169g / 3/4 c mascarpone cheese, room temperature

For the Almond Crumble:
Adapted from Ottolenghi

  • 50g raw almonds, roughly chopped
  • 25g cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 38g flour (AP or whole wheat, or a mix of the two)
  • 25g brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt

To finish:

  • 454g / 1 lb mixed fresh berries

Method

For the Almond Pate Sucree:

  1. Place the flour, icing sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine.
  2. Scatter the butter over the top of the flour mixture. Pulse several times until the butter is cut in (you want irregular pieces ranging in size from a pea to a quarter).
  3. Whisk the egg and vanilla together lightly to combine. Add the egg mixture in stages, pulsing after each addition. Once the egg is added, pulse in 10 second increments until the dough forms clumps (you don’t want it completely smooth). Once the dough reaches this stage, dump it onto a clean countertop or silpat and gently knead until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into two equal portions and reserve one for a future tart (well-wrapped, you can refrigerate it for a couple days, or freeze for a month). Place the remaining piece of dough between two Silpats (or pieces of plastic wrap) and roll it out into a roughly 12-inch circle of about a 1/4″ thickness. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
  4. Lightly grease a 9-inch tart tin. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and let it stand for about 5 minutes, just to make it pliable. Turn dough into the tart tin and trim the overhang to about 1/2 an inch. Fold the overhang in to reinforce the edges. If there are any tears or cracks, use some of the extra dough to patch it up. Pierce the dough all over with a fork, then wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a piece of foil and fit it firmly over the chilled tart dough. Put the tart tin on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil (if the crust has risen at all press it down gently with the back of a spoon). If any cracks have formed, use some of the reserved dough to patch it. Bake crust for another 5-10 minutes, or until firm and golden brown. Allow to cool completely before filling.

For the Mascarpone Cream:

  1. Place the mascarpone in a medium bowl and set a fine mesh strainer over it.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, egg yolk, and sugar together until smooth. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously to combine (ensure there are no lumps!).
  3. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until just at the boil. Remove from heat; and slowly but steadily pour it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. When all the milk has been added, pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan and return to medium-low heat, still whisking constantly. Once the mixture thickens and begins to bubble, cook the mixture for a minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. You now have pastry cream!
  4. Scrape the pastry cream into the strainer onto the mascarpone, pushing it through with a spatula or spoon. Let the mixture stand for ~30 seconds, then whisk to combine. Cover the mascarpone cream with plastic, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the cream so a skin doesn’t form. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 1/2 an hour before using.

For the Almond Crumble:

  1. Preheat oven to 300F and line a small baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.
  2. Combine the almonds and flour in a small bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the sugar and salt.
  3. Pour the mixture into a single layer onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown, stirring every 5 minutes to ensure even baking.

To assemble:

  • Whisk the mascarpone cream until smooth and spreadable. Using an offset spatula, spread the mascarpone cream evenly in the tart shell. Top with fresh berries and crumble. Serve chilled with additional crumble on the side. Best served within a day of assembling, but leftovers keep pretty well in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple of days.

Summer Pesto Toasts with Strawberries and Bocconcini

summer pesto toasts

This post is created in partnership with Tre Stelle’s Great Canadian Cheese Summer Sweepstakes; as always all ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

It’s officially farmer’s market season here in Toronto. Most Saturdays we head down to our local market and let the best looking produce dictate our weekend meals. And for the last few weeks, it’s been all about juicy strawberries and fresh herbs.

While dessert is usually the first thing that comes to mind when berries start cropping up, I also like adding berries to salads and savoury dishes for natural sweetness and pops of color. Since strawberries and basil pair so beautifully, I decided to take it one step further by adding strawberries to some pesto toasts. To complement the bright, sweet strawberries and sharp, herby pesto, I also added a handful of fresh Tre Stelle Bocconcini Pearls for some needed creaminess and texture. The result is a fresh summery toast that’s great on its own for breakfast or paired with a bowl of fresh tomato soup for lunch or a light dinner.

To celebrate the season, Tre Stelle is currently running their Great Canadian Cheese Summer Sweepstakes with over 150 prizes up for grabs — including 3 trips for two to the Tre Stelle cooking school in Niagara! To be eligible to win, purchase any specially marked tubs of Tre Stelle Feta or Bocconcini from your local grocery store and head over to the Tre Stelle website to enter now through August 31st. Good luck!

Note: You can make these toasts with store bought pesto, but I highly recommend hand-chopping your own. The texture and flavour is far superior to the pasty, flat-tasting types typically found in supermarkets. You can also use regular sized Bocconcini balls, sliced, to top the toasts — I just liked the festive look of the pearls!

Summer Pesto Toasts with Strawberries and Bocconcini

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients

  • Four 1/2” thick slices of crusty sourdough bread, toasted
  • 4 Tbsp pesto, homemade (recipe below) or store-bought
  • 4 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 container Tre Stelle Bocconcini Pearls
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  • Spread each slice of toast with a tablespoon of pesto. Top with strawberry slices and a generous handful of bocconcini pearls. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Enjoy!

hand chopped pesto

Hand-chopped Pesto

Makes ~1 cup

Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 c pine nuts, toasted
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • ~1/4 c olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon

Method

  1. Smash the garlic clove and chop along with a handful of pine nuts. Add a handful of basil and continue chopping, scraping your knife off as needed.
  2. Continue this process of chopping and scraping, alternating between adding handfuls of basil and pine nuts, until you’ve used them up and the desired texture is achieved (I like it fairly fine, but with some bigger chunks in there for texture).
  3. Transfer to a bowl and add a generous pinch of salt and the juice of half a lemon. Stir to combine, then add a tablespoon of olive oil at a time until you reach your desired consistency. You don’t need a lot of oil, just enough to cover the mixture. Usually about ~1/4 cup does it for me.
  4. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Best enjoyed immediately, but you can refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for a few days. Just stir before using.

Project Wedding Cake

wedding cake love

When my little brother Timothy asked me to make his wedding cake, I was intimidated but also intrigued. While cake-making has become a hobby over the past couple of years, I’d never attempted a tiered cake or transported a cake more than an hour away (he and his now-wife Kelsey got married in middle Pennsylvania, a good 6.5 hour drive from us). But I figured I had some time to practice, plus it was an honor to be a part of their special day — so how could I say no?

Well, the big day finally rolled around last weekend. My baby bro is now married…and Project Wedding Cake was a success! I thought I’d share a little about the process, both for myself (should I — *fingers crossed* — get the chance to make another one) and for any other first-time wedding cakers out there.

wedding cake closeup

wedding cake cutting

Cake Flavors and Design

I had a bit of freedom with the cake recipes. Tim and Kelsey requested earl grey as one of the layers, but other than that the flavors were up to me. I eventually went with cardamom and strawberry for the top tier (6-inch) and earl grey and lemon curd for the bottom (8-inch). Both tiers were frosted with white chocolate mascarpone buttercream. I was initially nervous about using a frosting with cream cheese and mascarpone on a cake that would be in an non-air-conditioned room for several hours in the summer, but the lady who made my wedding cake (plus many others) recommended it — and it held up beautifully!

For the cake layers themselves, I developed recipes based off my favorite vanilla cake — a formula I love because it’s moist, sturdy, and keeps well for a few days refrigerated and/or frozen. Since we were traveling a fair distance, I made the cakes a couple days ahead of time and froze them, wrapping each layer in plastic wrap and foil. I also made the fillings (roasted strawberry balsamic jam and lemon curd) at home and brought those along. Kelsey’s family was kind enough to let me use their kitchen to make frosting and assemble the individual tiers, which I did the day before the wedding. Each cake layer was also brushed with simple syrup / earl grey syrup during assembly for extra moisture and flavor.

To match the overall wedding theme (they got married on a farm), I kept the decor simple with a rustic finish for the lower tier and a semi-naked finish for the upper. Their florist provided some gorgeous fresh blooms and I am thrilled with how the final design turned out!

Top tips:
If you’re using fillings, pipe a thick frosting dam! During my trial run some of the filling oozed out while I was icing (I just used a thicker layer of frosting on the outside so it was all fine in the end), so for the actual wedding cake I doubled up the dam ring just for extra security. No leaks! I also spread a thin layer of buttercream on each layer before piping the dam and filling with jam/curd, which added stability.

Use an inverted cake pan to store your cakes in the fridge between frosting coats. Normally I just keep my cake on the turntable between the crumb and final coats, but because I was doing two at the same time I didn’t have that luxury. Most fridges have a little lip on the edge of each shelf that makes it tricky to slide cakes out, so it’s definitely a good idea to pop them on something elevated to make your life easier.

Tiering and Transportation

Stacking and transportation were my biggest worries for this whole project, because prior to this month I’d never stacked a cake! To prepare, I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube and ended up doing a trial run the week before just to put my mind at ease. The “dress rehearsal” really helped the real deal go very smoothly. (My sister-in-law and her fiance had a big BBQ the weekend before so there were people to help eat that one, hehe.) Plus, this cake was pretty small in the scheme of things — just two tiers. But a great size for a small (under 80 people) wedding and a beginning wedding caker!

wedding cake ready to decorate

I built the bottom layer on a very sturdy 10″ cake drum and used five bubble tea straws as dowels. I definitely recommend the straw method — they’re sturdy, cheap, and slid in really easily.

I built the top layer on a six-inch cake board taped to an eight-inch board, just for easier moving. I moved the individual tiers to the venue in cake boxes in a cooler (they fit really snugly) and stacked them at the venue the evening before the wedding. The cake was kept in the venue kitchen overnight, and the final decorations and moving were done the morning of the wedding around 9am. The cake was cut and eaten around 2pm. Yay!

Top tips:
Chill, chill, chill. It really helped to chill the cakes as much as possible — before doweling, before moving, before stacking. Cakes are so much sturdier when cold, and you can handle them with your hands without worrying about messing up your frosting.

Use cake boxes for transportation! They were inexpensive and honestly took the stress out of moving the tiers. Just make sure you get sizes that exactly fit your cake boards so they’re super snug!

Use a cake board to mark out where your tier is going to land. To make sure the top layer was centered, I just plopped a six-inch board on top of the frosted and chilled bottom layer and marked a few spots with a knife as guide marks. Way easier than trying to eyeball it.

Have a repair kit on hand. I packed extra frosting, a piping bag with a small tip, my offset spatula, and an icing comb for touch ups at the venue. I didn’t need to do any repairs, but I did pipe a bit of frosting on the bottom layer to “glue” the top layer on, plus some around the seam where the two tiers met.

All in all, Project Wedding Cake was a fantastic experience. Developing the recipes and planning the execution was a fun creative challenge; and it was so satisfying to see the final product come together. I’m grateful to my husband for patiently listening to my cake ramblings and helping with the moving and child-wrangling, and to Tim and Kelsey for entrusting me with this part of their special day. Congrats again, kids!

wedding cake backlit

Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles

This recipe is part of the Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace, hosted by Saghar Setarah of Lab Noon. Check out the links at the bottom of this post for other delicious potluck recipes from other bloggers!

We attended a lot of picnic BBQ potlucks growing up; and if you’ve ever picnicked with Asians you may have discovered we take our BBQs pretty seriously. There may be hamburgers and hotdogs, but it doesn’t stop there. Crockpots with congee, sticks of fish balls, plates of sushi — all par for the course. And of course — lots and lots of noodle dishes.

This is one of my go-to noodle salads for picnics, car trips, or — let’s face it — hot days when you don’t want to spend much time cooking. It takes all of 10 minutes to slap together, and is great on its own or as a base for a full meal (just add some shredded chicken, diced tofu, sliced raw veggies, etc.). If you have a peanut allergy, you can also sub out the peanut butter for tahini and that works great as well! Feel free to switch up the type of noodle you use too — my favorites are Yet-Ca-Mein (white Chinese wheat noodles) and dried shrimp egg noodles (the type you typically see in won ton noodle soup).

Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • 8-10 oz. dried Chinese egg or wheat noodles
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp creamy peanut butter (or tahini, or a combination of the two)
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil
  • 1-2 tsp chili-garlic sauce (more if you like it extra spicy)
  • Thinly sliced scallions, chopped cilantro, toasted sesame seeds, and chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish

Method

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients from the rice vinegar to the chili-garlic sauce. Taste and adjust dressing for desired level of sweetness/spiciness.
  2. Prepare the noodles according to the package instructions. Rinse under cold water to cool them down completely. Transfer noodles to a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Top with desired garnishes. Served chilled.

More delicious potluck recipes: