Mango Charlotte Cake

Do you have a cooking or baking bucket list? On my ever-growing one is gourmet pasta, multiple types of dim sum, and French entremets. Admittedly most of the things left on my list are a tad complicated and/or time consuming, so I’ve resigned myself to the reality that I probably won’t get to them for another decade or so (i.e. when the littles are more self-sufficient, at least).

While 7-layer entremets may have to wait, I’ve been able to tackle a couple other “fancy” cakes that are a little less complicated. The latest was this mango charlotte, which featured alternating layers of sponge cake and mango mousse surrounded by ladyfingers and topped with a mango glaze. The result was a beautifully light, sophisticated cake bursting with mango flavor. I’m eager to try this again with different fruits (raspberries? blackberries?); as it is definitely a nice alternative to a typical American-style layer cake.

Most charlottes call for a classic genoise as the cake portion. I used a Japanese genoise, which is a little sweeter and more m-m-moist than its European counterpart. To be honest, sponge cakes aren’t my forte but I’ve had good success with this one. The keys, I’ve found, are to whisk the eggs for a long time on a low speed (to build structure) and to fold in the flour with a slotted spoon (it’s faster and more efficient than a spatula). I tend to err on the side of undermixing, but don’t be like me unless you want failed batches of genoise with a) rubbery bottoms (from not mixing in the fats evenly) or b) flour bits (self-explanatory).

The star of the show is the fruit, though; I think I used about 7 medium-sized whole mangoes to make this cake! So you really do need to find very ripe, flavorful mangoes for this cake. Look for ones that have a little give when you gently squeeze them; and smell strongly of mango when you give them a sniff. If anything, err on the side of over-ripe!

While the mousse and glaze should be prepared right before using, the cake and ladyfingers can be baked in advance (freeze if you’re not using the same day). If you’re pressed for time, store-bought ladyfingers will do just fine as well.

Mango Charlotte Cake

Makes one 9-inch cake

Ingredients

For the ladyfingers
Makes about 3 dozen; freeze the extras or snack on them! | Adapted from The Cake Bible

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 10g vanilla
  • 1 T warm water
  • 150g sifted cake flour
  • 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • Icing sugar, for sifting

For the Japanese Genoise
Adapted from Natalie Eng

  • 173g cake flour, sifted
  • 255g eggs (approx. 5 large), at room temperature
  • 195g caster sugar
  • 23g glucose
  • 45g unsalted butter
  • 68g whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the Mango Mousse
Adapted from Joe Pastry

  • 567g (20 oz., about 4 medium-large) ripe fresh mangoes, cut into chunks (note: you will need additional mango (some pureed, some cut into chunks for the mirror glaze and filling; I recommend cutting up a couple extra mangoes and setting aside for that purpose)
  • 85g sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 1/2 tsp. powdered gelatin
  • 2 c heavy cream, chilled

For the Mango Mirror Glaze
Adapted from The Little Epicurean

  • 57g mango puree
  • 57g water
  • 28g sugar
  • 1 1/2 gelatin sheets (silver strength), bloomed

To assemble

  • 2 to 2 1/2 dozen ladyfingers (4-inch tall), bottoms trimmed
  • Simple syrup
  • ~1 c fresh mango chunks
  • Fresh berries for garnish (optional)
  • White chocolate curls for garnish (optional)
  • 9×3 cake ring (or springform pan)
  • 9-inch cake board
  • Acetate (can also use parchment paper or plastic wrap)

Method

Make the ladyfingers

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (you may need 3 if your pans are small).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the yolks and 1/2 c sugar on high for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is very thick and ribbons when dropped from the beater. Lower the speed and beat in the vanilla and water. Increase the speed to high and beat for another 30 seconds, or until thick again. Sift the flour over the yolk mixture without mixing in and set aside
    In another large bowl, beat the whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, and beat until soft peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 c sugar, beating until very stiff peaks.
  3. Add 1/3 of the whites to the yolk mixture and use a slotted spoon or spatula to fold until all the flour is incorporated. Gently fold in the remaining whites.
  4. Transfer some of the batter to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe 4 inch lines (“fingers”), leaving about 1/4 inch between each. (They will bake into each other, forming continuous strips.) Continue piping until you have used all the batter.
  5. Sift powdered sugar completely over the fingers. Once the sugar has dissolved, sift a second coat on.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until light golden brown and springy to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove from the sheets while still a little warm (to prevent cracking) using a long, thin spatula or pancake turner. Cool completely on racks before using or store in an airtight container. (Note: If you aren’t using that day, I recommend freezing the fingers for longer storage as they do stale. They defrost quickly, so just pull them out about an hour before you want to assemble the cake.)

Make the Japanese Genoise Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottoms of two 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pans and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, heat the eggs, sugar and glucose, whisking constantly, over a bain marie until the mixture reaches 45-50C. Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and mix on high speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and keep whisking for an additional 7 minutes. This allows the air bubbles to be even and small hence making it more stable so you will not knock so much air out when you fold in the flour.
  3. In a saucepan (or in the microwave), heat the milk, butter and vanilla essence until the butter has melted and the mixture is warm. Mix about 1 cup of the egg mixture into the butter mixture and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  4. Sift the flour in three parts into the egg mixture, folding each part in with a large slotted spoon (my preferred tool) or a silicone spatula before adding more flour. You want to fold gently but also ensure the flour is completely mixed in; otherwise you will have lumps in your cake. Once the flour is well incorporated, pour the butter mixture into the egg batter and fold it in until it is well incorporated. Do not overmix, but again make sure the butter mixture is well incorporated; otherwise the bottom of your cake will be rubbery. The batter should still be fluffy and almost as if it’s heaving.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown on top, the cake springs back when lightly pressed, and the cake is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Rotate the pans after about 20 minutes for even baking (don’t open the oven sooner or your cakes may collapse). Transfer the finished cakes to a wire rack. Cool for about 10 minutes in the pan; then turn the cakes out and finish cooling them completely on the rack.

Prepare the cake pan

  • Line your cake ring with acetate and place a cake board on the bottom. Trim the tops and bottoms of the cakes. Place one cake round in the center of the cake ring and brush liberally with simple syrup. Place the ladyfingers around the edge, fitting them in tightly to ensure there are no gaps (you may have to trim the edge of the last one to fit neatly). Set aside while you prepare the mousse.

Make the Mango Mousse

  1. Whip the cream to soft peaks and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
  2. Combine the mango chunks, sugar, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until smooth. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a medium bowl. You should have ~2 cups of puree.
  3. Heat about one third of the mixture in a small saucepan or in the microwave until warm but not boiling. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface and stir to combine completely. Stir the warmed mixture back into the rest of the puree. Cool the mixture back to room temperature, stirring occasionally. When the mango is cooled, whip the cream to stiff peaks. Gently but thoroughly fold the mango mixture into the cream. Use immediately.

Continue assembling the cake

  • Evenly spread about a cup of mousse over the first cake layer, making sure to go right to the edges. Sprinkle the mango chunks evenly over the mousse. Spread on another ~1/2 cup of mousse (or enough to cover the mango chunks). Place the second cake layer on top and press down to ensure it’s level. Brush liberally with simple syrup. Evenly spread on another cup of mousse, leaving about an inch from the top for the mirror glaze and garnish. Refrigerate until mousse is set, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Make the Mango Mirror Glaze

  • Heat the water, sugar, and puree in a small saucepan until warm but not boiling. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the bloomed gelatin. Transfer mixture to a glass measuring cup (preferably with a spout for easy pouring) and cool until just slightly warm, stirring occasionally. Use immediately.

Glaze and finish cake

  1. Remove the chilled cake from the fridge. Pour the glaze evenly over the top of the cake. Return the cake to the fridge to set completely (about 1/2 an hour).
  2. Remove the cake ring and acetate. Garnish top with fresh berries and white chocolate curls, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Confession: I’ve never had a “real” hot cross bun. The only hot cross buns I grew up with were the ones mentioned in the children’s song. My husband, on the other hand, has bad memories of overly-spiced, dense hot cross buns riddled with candied peel and wasn’t very enthusiastic when I mentioned I wanted to make some. Mission: make a sourdough hot cross bun my husband would eat happily, not just because he’s married to an experimental baker.

I started out trying to stay true to the idea of a traditional HCB: spiced dough with a hint of citrus (but no peel, please and thank you). I soaked dried figs and raisins in warmed orange juice and added some orange zest and my two favorite spices: cinnamon and cardamom. Personally I loved this combo — for my tastes, this was the perfect amount of spice and touch of citrus. However, DH is more of a raisins-only kind of guy; so I’ve included adjustments if you / your family prefers less spice in their bun. Of course, feel free to play around with your own favorite mix-ins. I think cranberries or dried sour cherries would be lovely, as would some toasted walnuts or pecans!

The base recipe for these buns is my trusty sourdough Hokkaido milk bread dough. When mixed properly, this dough produces beautifully fluffy, soft bread and is mild enough to adapt to many flavor combinations. I’ve been experimenting a tad with this recipe, and here are a few tips for handling this versatile dough:

  • When using a stiff starter you have some leeway in when you can use it (the peak/ripe stage is longer than with a liquid levain), but when making a sweet bread I like to use it as soon as it has reached peak and has just started to flatten (for me this is about 5-6 hours). I find there is no discernible sourdough tang in the final product, provided the seed starter is fresh. I’ve used the starter 10-12 hours after making and it’s still fine, but I do notice more of a tang.
  • In the past I’ve mixed this dough by hand, but recently I’ve had the use of the stand mixer and have been testing it out with this dough. Bottom line: it’s much faster and neater to mix this in a stand mixer (I’ve included some approximate timings below). However, it’s definitely helpful to know how to mix enriched doughs like this by hand, and it can teach you a lot about dough development. (It’s also oddly therapeutic.) So if you don’t have a stand mixer, don’t let it stop you — try it by hand!
  • The final proof time is long, no getting around it. Typically it takes me a minimum of 5 hours, more often 6+, at normal room temperature. Don’t rush this step or your bread will not be as fluffy as it could be, trust me! (Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever over-proofed this dough…) However, the long final proof actually works out pretty well for shaping before bed and baking off fresh buns in the morning — just put your shaped buns in a cooler area of your house if you’re going to be leaving them for more than 6 hours.

If you want to make these to bake off Easter (or any other) morning, I recommend the following schedule:

Day One:

  • 7:00am: Mix stiff starter
  • 1:00pm: Start mixing final dough
  • 4:30pm: Put dough in fridge to finish bulk proofing
  • 10:30pm: Remove dough from fridge, shape, give first coat of egg wash; proof at room temperature overnight

Day Two:

  • 6:30am: Preheat oven, make topping
  • 7:00am: Egg wash buns again, pipe topping, bake
  • 7:05am: Watch 24 hours of work get devoured in 2 minutes

Sourdough Hot Cross Buns

Makes 12

Levain

  • 18g starter (100% hydration)
  • 31g milk
  • 57g bread flour
  • Mix and ferment at room temperature for about 6 hours, or until puffed and with a slightly flattened dome. You should see large bubbles if you pull back the top. When using a stiff starter you have a bit more leeway in when you can use it (the peak stage is longer than with a liquid levain), but when making a sweet bread I like to use it as soon as it has reached peak and has just started to flatten. I find there is no discernible sourdough tang in the final product, provided the seed starter is fresh.

Final dough

  • All of the starter
  • 284g bread/AP flour
  • 46g sugar
  • 52g butter, room temperature
  • 21g milk powder
  • 53g egg (about 1 large), room temperature
  • 7g salt
  • 104g milk, room temperature
  • 88g cream, room temperature
  • 90g raisins and/or figs, soaked for at least one hour in the juice of one orange OR hot water + 1 tsp vanilla, drained, and patted dry
  • Zest of one orange (optional)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional, preferably freshly ground) or freshly grated nutmeg

Topping

  • 53g cake flour
  • 60g butter, room temperature
  • 30 gm caster sugar
  • 1 egg, whisked with a splash of milk
  • Simple syrup or warm honey, for glazing

Method:

  1. Mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt, butter, fruit, zest, and spices until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 60 minutes.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough until gluten is moderately developed (3-5 minutes on speed 3 in a stand mixer). The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Add butter a tablespoon at a time, making sure each tablespoon is incorporated before adding the next. Continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand (it generally takes about 10-15 minutes at speed 3 in a stand mixer). Consider it your arm workout for the day!
  3. Gently fold in the dried fruit, zest (if using), and spices until just incorporated (I prefer to do this by hand, even if mixing the dough with a stand mixer).
  4. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover, and bulk rise at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough will be noticeably expanded, but not doubled. Fold, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (or for at least 6 hours).
  5. Take the dough out and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces (roughly 70g each) and rest for about 30 minutes, covered by lightly oiled plastic, to take off the chill.
  6. Shape into buns. You can form each piece into a tight round; or use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll each piece into an oval shape, roll up like a jelly roll, then roll along the seam and roll up again like a jelly roll (I prefer the latter method). Place formed buns on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet about an inch apart. (It’s fine if they grow into each other slightly as this will make piping the crosses easier.) Brush the buns lightly with egg wash, then cover the pan with lightly oiled plastic and allow to rise at room temperature until puffed and about doubled in size (this usually takes 5-8 hours, depending on the temperature — see notes above).
  7. When the buns are almost done proofing, preheat the oven to 400F. Prepare the topping by mixing together the beating together the butter and sugar until well combined, then sifting in the cake flour and mixing until it forms a paste. Transfer to a piping bag or small Ziplock bag with the tip snipped off.
  8. Brush the top of each bun with a second coat of egg wash. Pipe crosses on the top of each bun (if they’ve grown into each other, just pipe long lines instead of individual crosses).
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan halfway, or until nicely browned and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. About 5 minutes before the buns are done, brush with a coat of simple syrup or warmed honey; then return to the oven until finished. Brush with a second coat of glaze once the buns are finished but still warm.

So you want to bake with sourdough

Ever since seriously starting my sourdough journey about nine months ago and quasi-journaling my progress on Instagram (and on this site), I’ve gotten a number of questions about how to get started as a home sourdough baker. I’ve listed some tips along with several of my favorite books and sites in a previous blog entry, but I wanted to follow up with a few more ideas now that I have a few more loaves under my belt, in hopes that it’ll help all the hopeful sourdough bakers out there.

Commit to baking with sourdough at least once a week.

If you’re really serious about wanting to learn how to use sourdough in your baking, there is no substitute for just doing it. I had my starter lurking in the fridge for a couple of years before I really started using it; and it wasn’t until I started baking with it regularly that I saw any improvement in my breads. This sounds stupidly simple; but if you’ve ever tried to start exercising or learn any new skill, you know it’s harder than it sounds. So do what you need to do — make a goal, start a journal, have someone ping you once a week to ask what you’re making — and just start doing it. (One of the benefits of this is that you’ll be forced to feed your starter; and a fed starter = happy starter = better end product, so everyone wins.)

Invest in a few tools, but don’t break the bank.

One of the joys of bread baking is that, at the core, it’s very simple. The only ingredients you really need are flour, water, salt, and yeast (in our case, wild). When you’re first starting out, you don’t need fancy equipment or flours. There are a few essentials, for sure: a good bench scraper, a digital scale, and a working oven. If you’re wanting to make crusty hearth breads, a pizza stone or dutch oven is super handy. Beyond that, you can survive for awhile. As you get more experienced, you’ll learn the aspects of your bread you want to improve and can invest in the tools needed for that (i.e. a lame, a digital thermometer, and bannetons). But I’d encourage anyone just beginning to start simple and work on fundamentals like proper fermentation/dough development and shaping, because all the fancy equipment in the world won’t improve your bread if you’re not working on these skills (I still feel like I have a long ways to go in these areas!).

Ask lots of questions.

If you start getting even the tiniest bit into sourdough you will quickly learn that you’ve entered what can be a very nerdy world. It’s also an extremely welcoming world where bakers are generally quite happy to share the knowledge they’ve spent hours acquiring. You’ll find plenty of forums and websites online (I’ve listed some of my favorites here), as well as many Instagram accounts where people are quite detailed about their baking philosophies and thought processes. Do your due diligence and try to figure out the answers through your own research and experimentation, but also don’t be shy — ask if you really don’t understand something or can’t figure out what’s going wrong.

Work sourdough into your schedule — not the other way around.

While I recommend following recipes closely the first several times (particularly when it comes to fermentation times, always knowing that your environment can affect timings greatly), there will undoubtedly come a time when you want to make bread according to your schedule, not a recipe’s. This is where you’ll have to sit down and figure out when you want your bread to be ready and how to get there. Sometimes it’s as simple as leaving your shaped loaf in the fridge until you want to bake it, but often you will have to be a little more nuanced than that. Learning your starter’s behavior is a big step towards scheduling freedom, so I recommend starting there. Then get to know the “sweet spots” in your environment (usually a nice warm corner or your turned-off oven with the pilot light on) and make note of the approximate fermentation times for your loaves. Once you have a baseline, you can manipulate your temperatures (to a certain degree) to speed/slow the process down. This takes considerable trial and error, but once you get a hang of manipulating times and temperatures to bake when you want, you’ll be much more likely to make sourdough a regular part of your life.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few recipes on this site to get you going!

Happy baking!

Auditioning for the Great Canadian Baking Show

great canadian baking show sign
At the Great Canadian Baking Show audition!

If you had told me three years ago that I would spend last Saturday auditioning for the Great Canadian Baking Show, I would have thought you were ridiculous. Three years ago I had never made a layer cake, much less a loaf of sourdough bread. But life can take some funny twists.

How it all started

Thanks to getting married, immigrating to Canada, and the subsequent funemployment while waiting for my work eligibility to kick in, I decided to delve into something I enjoyed but had little experience doing: baking. At that point I didn’t have any specific goals or recipes I wanted to master; I just needed to keep my hands and brain busy learning. And since it was gobsmack in the middle of a bad Canadian winter, staying inside next to a warm oven seemed like a good hobby to pursue. So I started checking out books from the library, perusing a few food blogs, and trying recipes that looked good.

Eventually I started gravitating towards certain types of baking: notably pies, cakes, and bread. I have a tendency to get slightly obsessive, especially if something doesn’t turn out the way I planned (read: I can be a perfectionist and generally don’t believe in half-assing things). So for example, if I made a bad pie crust, you’d better believe a bunch more pies would show up in the next few weeks (after an appropriate amount of internet research on how to fix pie crusts and comparison of dozens of recipes). It sounds a little crazy and it probably is; but that’s how I learned: I made mistakes and tried to fix them. I read a lot and bugged baker friends with questions / advice / requests for recipes. And I just baked a lot, typically 3+ times a week. And somewhere in there I started this little blog to keep track of recipes. (Writing things down has always helped me understand processes better, so even if I use a recipe from somewhere else I usually rewrite them to include steps and tips that make sense to me.)

The Application

Fast forward to earlier this year. A couple months ago, my husband forwarded me an article about a casting call for the first season of the Great Canadian Baking Show. I didn’t think much of it except, “Oh cool, the Great British Bake Off is the best and I’m glad they’re bringing it to Canada.” Within a day a couple other friends had sent me the same link with encouragement to apply. I figured I had nothing to lose; so one evening I sat on the sofa in my sweatpants and filled out the online application.

I didn’t think about it at all, really, until a few weeks ago when someone from the network called me for a phone interview. I was honestly just thrilled to know I’d made it past the first cut. When an email came a couple days later with an invitation to a live audition, I was shocked (and super excited)!

The Great Canadian Baking Show Audition

The chocolate raspberry cake I almost brought to my audition.
The next few weeks were spent preparing for the audition. Not much information was given, except that we were to bring a “signature bake” and would be asked to bake an undisclosed recipe using the equipment and ingredients provided. I focused my efforts on practicing techniques I wasn’t familiar with (to get used to being uncomfortable); and on deciding what to bring as my signature bake. It was a toss-up between a layer cake or a loaf of sourdough bread (the two things I like making the most); so I decided I’d make both and see which one turned out better. The week of the audition I prepped the ingredients for the cake (chocolate raspberry, of course) and made the same loaf of bread multiple times so that I’d have the best chance of success when it counted.

The morning of the audition I still hadn’t determined what to bring as both bakes had turned out as well as I could have hoped. My first instinct was the cake, because it had more immediate visual impact. But my husband nudged me to bring the bread, pointing out, “This is your recipe and a true signature bake; if you’re proud of it, you should win or lose with that.” (Have I mentioned my husband is the best? Taste-tester, child-wrangler, ingredient-buyer, soundboard, voice of reason — I’m truly blessed.) So in the end, I packed up my humble loaf of bread and a jar of homemade cultured butter and drove off to the audition site.

sourdough bread signature bake
My “signature bake” — a loaf of sourdough bread.
Due to NDAs I can’t divulge much about the actual audition itself (sorry, you’ll have to audition yourself to get the full scoop!), except to say I had a blast! I had imagined myself in front of a scary panel of judges, trying to slice my bread without shaking or cutting myself and hoping I wouldn’t make dumb mistake like mixing up the sugar and the salt. In reality it was more like hanging out with a bunch of other baking nerds, whipping up delicious things and eating really good food (yes, we got to try each others’ stuff!). I felt totally relaxed throughout the whole process, and in the end I believe bringing the bread was the better choice (thanks again, husband!). It was well received and stood out in its simplicity (and lack of sugar).

I don’t know if I’ll make it any further in the Great Canadian Baking Show process, but I certainly have no regrets about trying. At the end of the day I was more inspired than ever to keep baking, learning, and improving. It was refreshing to meet a variety of other people — from engineers to students to salespeople — who bake just for the love of it. And I was reminded of the joy of creativity. Whether you cook, bake, sew, write, build — what a vital and refreshing part of the human experience. I’m thankful that I can make my cake…and eat it too.

audition group shot
A big happy (and maybe slightly sugared-out) baking family

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cake

peanut butter chocolate cake
I love making birthday cakes. While I don’t have a problem with having a little dessert every day, I do think there’s unique joy in having something made just for you on your special day — hopefully with your tastes and preferences in mind.

This cake was for my father-in-law’s birthday. He’s one of the most non-picky eaters I know; but while he eats everything, he especially likes chocolate and nuts. This was for a small family celebration, so the cake is quite small: two 6-inch layers. If you want to make it into a double layer 8-inch cake, refer to the original chocolate cake recipe and make 1.5-2x the frosting (this recipe makes a generous amount; I gave this cake a fairly thick layer and still had enough leftover to frost 20 mini cupcakes).

Some notes on the frosting: I’ve had mixed experiences with Swiss Meringue Buttercream (SMBC); although I’ve made it sort of successfully in the past, to be honest I didn’t really like the flavor of it before — it just tasted like sweet butter. (Which I guess it is.) This time was different, for a couple of big reasons:

  • I borrowed my sister-in-law’s stand mixer. It still took awhile to make the frosting, but my hand didn’t feel dead at the end. My previous attempts at SMBC were with a hand mixer; it’s possible that way, but the stand mixer really does make the process way easier and more enjoyable, IMO.
  • Peanut butter and cream cheese. They go so well together, and in this case they combine to make the fluffiest, silkiest, and most tasty peanut butter icing I’ve ever had. I’m generally not a huge icing person, but I could have eaten it straight with a spoon. The brown sugar added a little something something too; a nice depth of flavor that reminded me of honey roasted peanuts. Yum.

I’ve read a lot of SMBC tutorials and recipes (see here, here, and here just for starters), and they vary pretty widely on the ratio of egg whites to sugar to butter. I aimed somewhere in the middle, and chose to be conservative in the sugar amount since I prefer my icings not too sweet. There also seem to be varying opinions on how much cream cheese works in this type of icing, and I know some people have trouble with cream cheese SMBC breaking because of the water content of the cream cheese. I went for a half-butter, half-cream cheese ratio, and kept a couple extra tablespoons of butter on the side in case I needed it to help emulsify the mixture. In the end, I did end up using the extra butter. I also refrigerated the icing for about 10 minutes during that scary curdling stage, then just kept whipping at a low speed and it eventually came together. My advice is to just be patient and not panic; read a few tutorials on how to fix broken buttercream ahead of time so you know what to do if and when your icing reaches that stage. This is honestly one of the tasiest frostings I’ve ever made so I do hope you give it a try!

To add a little texture, I made some peanut brittle for garnish. This was my first time making peanut brittle, which was exciting because I got to use my brand-spanking-new candy thermometer! Last year I attempted making soft caramel candies a couple of times and failed; later I realized it was because my thermometer was a good 15 degrees off…basically the difference between delicious and burnt. The lesson here is: check your thermometer’s calibration by putting it in a pot of water and bringing it to a boil. It should register 212F / 100C when the water boils. Hopefully that’ll save you a few burned batches of sugar!

peanut butter chocolate cake from above

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake with Maple Peanut Brittle

Makes one 2-layer, 6-inch cake

Ingredients

For the Midnight Chocolate Cake

A half batch of this recipe, baked in two 6-inch pans, with the following changes:

  • Use half all purpose, half cake flour
  • Use black cocoa for the cocoa powder
  • Start checking for doneness around 25 minutes

For the Maple Peanut Brittle

Recipe adapted from Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes

  • 55g / 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 110g brown sugar / 1/2 c (I used light)
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c light corn syrup
  • Heaped 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 150g / 1 c roasted, unsalted peanuts

For the Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream

  • 135g egg whites, room temperature
  • 220g light brown sugar
  • 150-180g butter, cut into cubes, at cool room temperature
  • 150g cream cheese, cut into cubes, cool room temperature
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • Smooth creamy peanut butter, such as Skippy or Jif, to taste (I used three large spoonfuls)
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

To finish

  • Chopped roasted, unsalted peanuts
  • Various chocolate candies (I used bite sized Snickers and some white chocolate covered almonds)

Method

Make the Maple Peanut Brittle:

  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat and set aside.
  2. Combine the baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Have your peanuts measured and ready to go as well.
  3. Combine the butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 298F / 149C on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the baking soda and salt. Fold in the peanuts and pour the mixture evenly onto the prepared baking sheet (work quickly as it does harden rather fast).
  4. Let the brittle cool completely (about an hour) before breaking in pieces to use for decoration. Store leftovers, layered between pieces of parchment paper, in an airtight container.
  5. Note: To easily clean your sugar work pans, fill with water, cover, and bring to a boil for several minutes. It’ll melt the sugar right off.

Make the Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

  1. Place egg whites and brown sugar in a heatproof bowl (such as the bowl of your stand mixer) and whisk to combine. Set bowl over a pot of just simmering water to create a double boiler and whisk until mixture reaches 140-160F. Don’t allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water.
  2. Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the egg white-sugar mixture on low for a couple of minutes and gradually increase the speed to medium high. Continue whisking until the meringue reaches glossy stiff peaks and both the meringue and the bowl are at room temperature (about 10 minutes).
  3. Switch out the whisk for the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low, add the butter one cube at a time. Wait until the butter is completely incorporated before adding the next cube. When the butter is incorporated, repeat with the cream cheese.
  4. Continue mixing on low until the mixture is smooth, then add the vanilla, a pinch of salt, and peanut butter a spoonful at a time (to taste). Taste and add a touch more salt if the mixture tastes too sweet. Mix on medium speed for a couple minutes, or until the buttercream is smooth, silky, and fluffy.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Level your cakes if desired. (Note that this chocolate cake is very tender and moist, so I highly recommend working with them chilled.) Set your first cake round on a cake board and spread a generous amount buttercream evenly over the top, followed by a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. Set the second cake round on top and spread a thin coat of buttercream over the top and sides to trap all the crumbs. Refrigerate until buttercream is firm, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add a thicker layer of buttercream over the top and sides, using an offset spatula and icing scraper for evenness.
  3. To get the “rustic” look, use an offset spatula or back of a spoon to create random swoops.
  4. Top with chopped peanuts and peanut brittle if desired. If you’re not serving the cake right away, store in the refrigerator but bring to room temperature before serving. Just before serving, garnish with peanut brittle and candies. (Don’t put the brittle on too soon or it may soften and weep.)

Curry Udon and Cooking with Kids

curry udon

As I near the halfway point with pregnancy #2, I’ve been trying to imagine how I’ll do certain things with two little ones in tow. No joke — at each store I’ll try to figure out where I’d park and if I’d put one kid in the cart and carry one, or stick the carseat in the cart, or if Marcus would maybe be responsible enough to walk quietly beside me (one can dream!). Sometimes I feel a little panicky, but then I remember my mom had five kids under 9 at one point. We may not have gone out much but we weren’t hermits. Just like toting one kid around was an adjustment, two will be too — but with God’s grace we’ll get there.

One of the concerns I had when I was pregnant the first time around was if I’d have time to cook and bake. I’ve always enjoyed preparing dinner and considered it a relaxing part of the day. To be honest, it’s taken me longer to “figure out” how to cook with a kid than it has to bake with one (because I usually just wait until my husband is home before I attempt any involved baking). And by “figure out” I mean that I haven’t really. As soon as I think I’ve got a schedule down, something changes — first it was Marcus not napping at that time, then it was him starting to climb on things whenever I was in the other room. You get the idea. If I’ve learned anything in the past 18ish months it’s that parenthood requires constant adjustment. No matter how many kids we end up having I’ll never have it “figured out,” and that’s ok. As my mom told me early on, when I was voicing my frustrations about not having enough hands: “Oh, you know, sometimes the house just won’t be clean. You do the best you can.”

Hopefully I haven’t painted this bleak picture where it sounds impossible to get things done with a kid! It’s just different, and I’m still learning. Some of the adjustments I’ve made since having a kid:

  • Divide meal prep into 15 minute increments. Chop vegetables during naptime; prepare marinades/sauces while the kid is eating; etc.
  • I don’t freeze a lot of cooked meals, but if I cook a batch of beans I’ll make a triple portion and freeze extras for quick additions to soups and stews.
  • Make batches of hard boiled eggs and granola at the start of the week for quick meals.
  • Always have frozen dumplings on hand.
  • Have a recipe base of quick meals that you can easily customize with whatever ingredients you have on hand. (Notice how many times the word “quick” has shown up? Lol.)

Curry is one of those quick meals that shows up in some variation on our dinner table every couple of weeks or so. We live right next to a little Japanese grocery store, so we always have a box of Japanese curry roux in the pantry. Most of the time we eat it over rice, but the other week I decided to switch it up and make it with udon noodles (another constant pantry item). It. Was. So. Good! The preparation was slightly different, but about as quick as how I make curry over rice. For the udon version I use less curry roux but dashi stock instead of water — this makes for a slightly thinner but still flavorful sauce that easily coats the noodles.

Curry Udon

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

  • 3 cups dashi stock (homemade, or using dashi powder)
  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • About 1/2 in. ginger, peeled, sliced, and minced
  • 1-2 c sliced vegetables of choice (my favorites are carrot, celery, and mushroom)
  • 3/4 lb your choice of meat/seafood, sliced if needed (I usually use chicken or a package of fish/beef balls)
  • 1 Tbsp. mirin
  • 2 pieces/blocks of Japanese curry roux
  • 1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce (or to taste)
  • Salt, sugar, and white pepper to taste
  • 1 green onion, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • 3 packages udon noodles (about 600 grams)

Method

  1. Prepare your dashi stock.
  2. In a large frying pan or saucepan, heat oil on medium high. Add garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant. Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, season lightly with salt and sugar, and saute another 3-4 minutes. If you’re using an uncooked protein, add it at this point and increase the heat to high. Saute until the meat/seafood is almost cooked through.
  3. Add the dashi and mirin and bring to a boil. (If I’m using beef/fish balls, I add them once the stock has come to a boil.) Skim off any fat or scum that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the curry roux. Once the curry has dissolved, put the pan back on medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened to your liking. Stir occasionally to make sure the curry doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  5. Taste and add soy sauce, salt, and white pepper if desired.
  6. Prepare your udon noodles according to the package instructions. Serve curry sauce over the udon noodles and garnish with green onion, if desired.

An everyday sourdough loaf

everyday sourdough

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how music taught me to bake bread. Since that time, sourdough baking has wormed its way into our everyday life. I bake bread two or three times a week; sometimes I’ll include sourdough in pancakes, crackers, tortillas, pie crust, or even cake. Partially it’s thanks to my son, who absolutely loves bread and wakes up almost every morning asking for it; partially it’s because it’s just so fun! I find bread especially satisfying to make because, at the root, it’s a very simple product: just flour, water, and salt (and your wild yeast). Watching these few ingredients transform into a delicious, nutritious loaf is one of life’s little pleasures. And once you start exploring different types of flours and grains, you realize that there are so many possibilities even with these limited ingredients! However, today’s recipe is for a simple, ordinary, everyday sourdough loaf. It’s versatile (I love it smeared with peanut butter or as a base for fancier toast toppings), and it uses ingredients I normally have stocked in my kitchen.

But before we get on to the recipe, I wanted to answer one of the questions I get fairly often: “How do you fit sourdough bread baking into your day, especially with a little kid?” When you first start baking with sourdough, admittedly it can seem a little overwhelming. Recipes look complicated, and the time schedule seems restricting. But I actually think that making bread is one of the most doable baking hobbies you can undertake with a small child. The actual hands-on time is quite small:

  • Preparing the starter (2 minutes)
  • Mixing the loaf (5-10 minutes)
  • Folding the loaf (less than 1 minute per fold)
  • Shaping the loaf (5 minutes)
  • Scoring and baking the loaf (about an hour, though most of this time is just waiting for the bread to bake)

I usually plan my bakes on days when I know I’ll be around home, but I’m also a big believer in not letting a bread’s schedule run your life. So here are some things to keep in mind when fitting bread-baking into a busy day.

  1. Temperature plays a huge factor in rising times. Warmer temperature: faster rise; cooler temperature: slower rise. I do most of my bulk-proofing in a cozy little corner of my kitchen, and I know a typical loaf like the recipe below takes about 3.5-4 hours to bulk ferment. If I want to slow this down, I’ll put the loaf in a cooler part of the house to ferment. You can also play around with refrigeration for part of the bulk fermentation; it’s not something I do often but I know many bakers use this method successfully. On the flip side, if you find your loaf is sluggish, try moving it somewhere warmer (the oven with the light on is a good place), or try mixing your loaf with slightly warmer water. You don’t want to get your dough too warm, though — somewhere around 78-82F is a pretty happy place.
  2. It’s not a big deal if you miss a fold. There are often times when an appointment runs late and I don’t get the planned number of folds in/fold at the schedule I intended. No biggie. As long as your dough is strong and fermented enough by the end of bulk fermentation, you and your bread will be fine.
  3. Bake often. Familiarity aids speed. I use my starter fairly often, so I have a daily routine of feeding and am familiar with its fermentation schedule. This helps me know approximately when it’ll be ready to use and my rising times are pretty consistent because my starter is healthy. Plus, baking often helps me be able to judge more accurately how fermentation is progressing and whether I need to manipulate it depending on that day’s schedule.

OK, enough talking and on to the recipe!

This is a basic everyday loaf I’ve been playing around with for a few weeks. I wanted a versatile bread with a decent amount of whole grains for flavor and nutrition. At 30% whole wheat, this bread is hearty but still quite soft and light, thanks to a decent amount of water and a touch of oil and honey. It’s stays fresh for several days and makes some fine toast. I’ve used different types of whole wheat with this formula — red fife, stoneground, sprouted — and they have all worked fine (you may need to adjust the water amount to suit your flour). It’s an everyday loaf; use what you have lying around!

Other news:
I was honored to be interviewed for a Reader’s Digest article about smartphone photography for Instagram. Check out the article for some of my everyday tricks, plus advice from some actual photographers!

everyday sourdough - crumb

everyday sourdough - half

everyday sourdough - boule

An everyday sourdough loaf

Makes one ~750g loaf

Ingredients

  • 260g Bread/AP flour — I usually use a mixture, but a slightly higher amount of bread (70%)
  • 111g Whole Wheat flour (30%)
  • 304g Water — reserve about 50g for mixing (82%)
  • 67g Mature, Ripe Levain @ 100% hydration (18%)
  • 8g Salt (2.2%)
  • 15g olive oil (4%)
  • 15g honey (4%)

Method

  1. Mix together the flours and water (reserve 50g for mixing later) and autolyse (rest) for 1-3 hours, covered with a tea towel.
  2. Add the mature starter and about half the reserved water and mix until the starter is incorporated. Rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and pinch in. If the dough feels like it can handle it, add in the remaining reserved water and mix to combine. Add the oil and honey and pinch in to combine thoroughly. If you did a long autolyse, the dough should be decently strong at this point and you shouldn’t need to mix too much (maybe 1-2 minutes). If it feels weak, do a couple minutes of stretch and fold or slap and fold so the dough is moderately developed. It will continue to strengthen through bulk so it doesn’t need to be smooth at this point. Transfer the dough to a clean and lightly oiled container and cover with a clean tea towel.
  4. Bulk ferment in a warm place for 3-4 hours with stretch and folds every half hour for the first 1-2 hours. If after the second set of folds the dough seems quite strong, skip the last two folds and let the dough sit for the rest of bulk. Bulk fermentation is done when the dough has increased by 30-50%, you can see fermentation bubbles along the bottom and sides of the container, and the edges are domed where the dough meets the container.
  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and gently preshape into a round. Cover with a bowl or lightly oiled plastic and let rest for about 30 minutes.
  6. Prepare your basket (or other proofing vessel) by lining with a lint-free linen/cotton tea towel or lightly dusting with rice flour. Lightly flour your work surface and the rested round. Flip your preshaped round and shape as desired (boule or batard). Transfer to the prepared proofing container, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 10-14 hours (or overnight).
  7. An hour before baking, preheat your oven to 500F (550 if it goes that high). You can bake this loaf in a Dutch oven (which you should preheat with the oven), or use your preferred method of steaming. (I bake my loaves on a pizza stone and cover them with a large foil roasting pan for the steaming portion of baking.) At this point, I also like to uncover my loaf (i.e. remove the plastic, but keep it refrigerated). This dries out the surface a little which I find makes scoring easier.
  8. When the oven is ready, invert your loaf onto a piece of parchment on a pizza peel. Score as desired, then transfer to the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 500F. Bake with steam (or covered) at 500F for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 450F and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove the cover / steam pan and bake for another 15-25 minutes at 450F until your desired doneness, rotating a couple times for even baking. When finished, the crust should be nicely browned and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for at least an hour before cutting.

Matcha Black Sesame Mousse Cake

matcha black sesame mousse cake

This matcha black sesame mousse cake is what I’d call a happy accident. Originally I’d planned to make a black sesame cake with matcha mousse, but the black sesame cake just was not cooperating. (Still in search of a good black sesame sponge cake; I’m all ears if you have one!) After two failed attempts and a dangerously low number of eggs left, I decided to abandon ship and go back to my tried and true sponge cake, this time with a matcha twist.

So then it was on to find a black sesame mousse recipe. My criteria were that it had to use black sesame powder (because that’s all I had) and be pregnant-lady friendly (i.e. no raw eggs); this recipe fit the bill. It worked out beautifully — a nice, pillowy, not-too-sweet mousse with a present sesame flavor.

To add some sweetness and texture, the cake is finished with matcha white chocolate ganache, matcha meringues, and black sesame brittle.

I know there are a lot of steps, but really — it looks more complicated than it actually is. Most steps are easy and don’t take long to complete. The assembly is done Momofuku Milk Bar style, which makes getting the nice crisp layers…wait for it…a piece of cake. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) Cake disasters aside, I honestly enjoyed both making and eating this cake. The matcha + black sesame combo is a classic flavor combo for good reason; and this iteration of it is light and elegant.

A few notes:

  • Originally I thought I’d whip up some of the matcha white chocolate ganache for decorations, so I made the ganache using a 1:1 ratio of chocolate to cream. In the end I didn’t need the whipped ganache; had I known this I’d have gone with a 2:1 ratio of chocolate to cream for a thicker glaze. Either will work; it just depends on the thickness/look you prefer.
  • Some of the elements (cake, meringues, brittle) can be made in advance. I wouldn’t do the meringues and brittle more than a day in advance, though, as they will lose some crispness — especially if the weather is humid.

mousse cake top

Matcha Black Sesame Mousse Cake

Makes one 6-inch cake

Ingredients

For the Matcha Sponge

  • One recipe of this sponge cake; replace 5g of cake flour with 2 tsp matcha powder
  • Simple Syrup

For the Black Sesame Mousse

Recipe from Grace’s Kitchen (make right before you’re ready to fill the cake)

  • 150 g whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 70 g sugar
  • 4 tbsp black sesame powder
  • 10 g gelatin powder
  • 50 gm water
  • 300 gm heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks (keep refrigerated)

For the Matcha Meringues
(Adapted from Meringue Girls)
Note: This makes a big batch of meringues, way more than you will need just for decorations. You could easily quarter or halve the recipe; I just made a lot because I was giving some away.

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 150g egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp matcha powder

For the Black Sesame Brittle
(Recipe from The Little Epicurean)

  • 25 grams glucose, or light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp water
  • 65 grams unsalted butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 80 grams granulated sugar
  • 50 grams toasted black sesame seeds

For the Matcha White Chocolate Ganache

  • 60 g matcha white chocolate, chopped (or plain white chocolate, plus 1/2 tsp matcha powder)
  • 30-60 g heavy cream (use up to 60 g if you want a thinner glaze)

For assembly

Method

Make the Black Sesame Mousse:

  1. Mix gelatin powder and water in a small bowl. Set aside to bloom for about 10 minutes.
  2. Heat milk and cream cheese over medium heat in a small saucepan, whisking to combine smoothly. Add sugar and black sesame powder and mix well with a whisk to make sure the mixture is lump free.
  3. Heat the gelatin mixture for about 10 seconds in the microwave, or until the gelatin is dissolved.
  4. Remove the milk mixture from the heat and immediately stir in the gelatin. Allow to cool briefly. Fold in the whipped cream in three additions. Use immediately.

Make the Matcha Meringues:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400F. Prepare two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Line a small baking tray with baking parchment, pour in the caster sugar and heat it in the oven for 7 minutes (or until the edges crystallize). Heating the sugar helps to create a glossy, stable mixture. Pour the egg whites into a mixer and whisk them slowly, allowing small stabilizing bubbles to form, then increase the speed to high until the egg whites form stiff peaks.
  2. Take the sugar out of the oven, and turn oven down to 210F (leave the door open to help speed this up). With your mixer on full speed, very slowly spoon the hot sugar into the beaten egg whites, making sure the mixture comes back up to stiff peaks after each addition of sugar (don’t add any crystallized bits). Once you have added all the sugar, continue to whisk on full speed until you have a smooth, stiff and glossy mixture. You should continue to whisk for at least 5 minutes once sugar has incorporated. Feel a bit of the mixture between your fingers; if you can still feel the gritty sugar, keep whisking at full speed until it has dissolved and the mixture is smooth, stiff and glossy. Sift in the matcha powder and whisk just until combined.
  3. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag with the tip cut off. Pipe out your kisses onto your prepared sheets by keeping the bag tight, straight and directly above your baking tray. For decorative purposes, I like to make meringues of different sizes; just keep in mind they’ll finish at different times; so you may want to pipe smaller meringues on one tray and bigger ones on the other.
  4. Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until the meringue bases come cleanly off the parchment paper. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Make the Black Sesame Brittle

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line baking sheet with a Silpat. Set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine glucose, water, butter and salt. Set over medium heat and cook until butter has melted. Stir as needed to ensure even heating.
  3. Once mixture is liquid, add sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in sesame seeds. Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes until sugar is boiling and has turned amber brown. Let cool to room temperature to allow brittle to set and harden. Once cool, use your hands to break up the brittle. Store in an airtight container.

Make the Matcha White Chocolate Ganache

  1. Place the chopped matcha white chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Warm the cream in the microwave until steaming. (Note: if you’re using matcha powder, sift this into the cream before heating and make sure to whisk so no lumps remain.) Pour evenly over the chocolate. Allow to stand for a minute before stirring to combine. Allow to sit at room temperature until it drizzles off a spoon slowly (you can also stick it in the refrigerator to speed the process up).

Assemble the Matcha Black Sesame Mousse Cake

  1. Use the pastry ring to cut out 2 six-inch cake rounds. (The rest of the cake is extra; use it to make a trifle or just snack on it.) Wash and dry the pastry ring and line it with acetate. Place on top of a 6-inch cake board on a quarter sheet pan.
  2. Brush the first cake round with simple syrup and fit it into the bottom of the pastry ring. Pour in half the black sesame mousse. Freeze for 10-15 minutes or until the mousse is set.
  3. Put the second round of cake on top of the mousse and brush it with simple syrup. Nestle a second round of acetate between the pastry ring and first acetate round.
  4. Pour the remaining black sesame mousse over the second cake round. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to set.
  5. Freeze your cake for at least 20 minutes before applying the matcha white chocolate ganache (this will keep the ganache from melting the mousse). Set the cake on an upturned bowl on a plate or baking sheet (to catch any drips). Remove the pastry ring and acetate. Using a spoon, drizzle the ganache along the edges to create a drip effect, then spread a layer over the top. At this point, you can affix the cake to an eight-inch cake round for easier moving. Refrigerate immediately to set.
  6. Right before serving, decorate with matcha meringues and black sesame brittle. I also used some crushed up meringues and black sesame seeds. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

mousse cake angled

Salted Caramel Pear Pie

With another Pi Day on the horizon, it was time to scratch my pie-baking itch. I really wanted to make a fruit pie; and while spring may technically be on the horizon, here in sometimes-it-snows-in-May Toronto we’ve been on a decidedly wintry kick. Ergo, no good looking rhubarb / berries in sight. I did, however, spot some delicious looking pears at the market; and since I haven’t gotten to bake with pears as much as I’d like this pear pie was born.

I adapted this recipe from Yossy Arefi’s Sweeter off the Vine: Fruit Desserts for Every Season. Yossy’s recipe uses a homemade creme fraiche salted caramel sauce, which sounds amazing; but I just used some leftover salted caramel sauce from a previous baking project. I decided to add some of the tang back in by using sour cream in my pie crust. A bit of dairy is a lovely addition to a pie crust — it adds depth of flavor and tenderness. You can also use buttermilk or yogurt if you don’t have sour cream.

Speaking of pie crusts, here I detail pretty much how I make all my pie crusts nowadays. The method may seem a bit involved, but it really doesn’t take much more time than a “normal” pie crust and you end up with a lovely, flaky crust that’s a dream to roll out. I credit The Bojon Gourmet for these crust “tricks;” she has an awesome, detailed tutorial that I highly recommend! I typically replace about 1/3 of the flour in my pie crusts with whole grain flour for flavor (health benefits are just a plus!); you could substitute rye or whole wheat for the spelt or use a combination; or just go all AP if you want.

I added one step to the filling, which is to macerate the fruit with the sugar and lemon juice and reduce the resulting liquid down to a syrup. (I frequently do this with other fruit pies to concentrate the flavors and avoid a soggy bottom crust.) My pears didn’t give off a ton of liquid so you can probably skip this step if you’re pressed for time or don’t want to bother.

My friends and I really enjoyed this pie. It’s lightly sweetened and warmly spiced, and the pears keep their texture nicely — they soften, but still retain some body (I personally don’t like an overly goopy filling so this is right up my alley). This is definitely a winning alternative to a typical apple pie and I can see this making an appearance at a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner in the future!

Salted Caramel Pear Pie with a Spelt Sour Cream Crust

Makes one 9-inch Pie | Adapted from Sweeter Off the Vine

For the Spelt Sour Cream Crust:

  • 240 g all purpose flour
  • 100 g whole spelt flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 255g very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 c sour cream, very cold
  • 1/4 c ice water, plus more if needed

For the Salted Caramel Pear Pie Filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (I used a mix of d’Anjou and Bosc)
  • 50 g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 32 g / 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce, plus extra for drizzling (I like this recipe)

To Finish:

  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water or milk
  • 1 Tbsp turbinado sugar

Method:

  1. Make the pie crust: Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat. Working quickly, press the butter into flat sheets, occasionally tossing with the flour to make sure each piece is coated. The butter pieces should range in size from a dime to a quarter.
  2. Add the sour cream and 1/4 c ice water and use your hand or a wooden spoon to gently combine. If the dough seems dry, sprinkle more ice water on 1 tsp at a time until the dough just comes together. Your dough is ready if you can pick up a handful and it stays together. At this point the dough will still look quite rough and shaggy.
  3. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface (I like to use a Silpat), divide into`12 roughly equal portions, and fraisage each piece across your surface using the heel of your hand or a bench scraper. The idea is to create streaks of butter within your dough. Pile the fraisaged pieces and pat into a rough rectangle. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for about 15 minutes, or until cool but still pliable.
  4. Using a lightly floured rolling pin and flour on your surface as needed, roll the dough into a rough rectangle about 1/4″ thick. Fold into thirds like a letter, brushing off excess flour before folding. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the rolling and folding. (Refrigerate 10 minutes between turns if the dough feels warm or sticky at all.) At this point the dough should be quite smooth and easy to roll. Then loosely roll the dough up like a jelly roll, starting from a short end. Cut into two equal pieces, wrap each portion in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
  5. Prepare the filling: Combine pears, sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl and stir to combine. Cover and allow to macerate at room temperature for at least half an hour (or up to several hours).
  6. Grease a 9-inch pie plate. On a lightly floured surface (again, I like a Silpat for this), roll out one portion of your dough into a rough circle about 12 inches in diameter, about 1/8 – 1/4″ thick, working from the center out and rotating a quarter turn with each roll. Flip the dough occasionally and lightly flour to ensure it doesn’t stick. Transfer the dough to your prepared pie plate (if you’ve rolled on a Silpat, this is as easy as flipping the whole thing over your pie plate, peeling off the Silpat, and easing the dough in), trim the overhang to about 1 inch, and refrigerate until needed.
  7. Roll your other piece of dough as the first. If you’re doing a lattice top, use a ruler and pastry cutter to cut your strips. Refrigerate until needed.
  8. Put a colander over a saucepan and dump the macerated pears in. Boil the remaining juices until syrupy, pour into a small bowl, and set aside to cool. Combine the flour and spices and toss with the pear slices.
  9. Neatly arrange about half the pear slices into your bottom pie crust, trying not to leave any gaps. Drizzle with 1/4 c salted caramel sauce. Add the remaining pears and drizzle with the reduced juices and the remaining 1/4 c salted caramel sauce. Top with the other half of the crust as desired, and crimp the edges to seal. Freeze for about 15 minutes, or until pastry is firm.
  10. Preheat oven to 425F with a rack and baking sheet in the bottom third of the oven. Prepare the egg wash. When the pie is ready to be baked, lightly egg wash the entire surface, being careful not to drag any of the filling onto the top (it will burn). Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
  11. Transfer the pie onto the preheated baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 45-60 minutes, or until the crust is well-browned and the filling is bubbling. Rotate the pan halfway through. If the pie is browning too quickly, lower the heat to 375F after half an hour and/or tent with foil to prevent burning. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Sourdough Burger Buns

I know it’s a little early to be thinking about BBQ season, but here in Toronto winter has been surprisingly mild. So mild, in fact, that we actually pulled out the grill out a couple weekends ago!

My husband really enjoys BBQ’ing, and one of his specialties is homemade burgers. It’s been my goal to find a homemade burger bun recipe to contribute to the mix, and this is it! I actually started making the yeast version of these awhile back, but now that my sourdough starter is nice and healthy I wanted to convert the recipe to SD. The sourdough adds a subtle tang, and also helps keep these buns fresh a little longer.

These buns are light brioche style, so they’re slightly eggy but not too rich. They’re soft, but sturdy enough to hold hefty fillings without disintegrating into a sloppy mess. I love them lightly toasted so you get the outside crunch plus the soft interior — the best of both worlds!

I’ve broken this recipe into a two day process, though you could probably start these in the morning and have them ready by dinner. In the bulk fermentation step, just let the dough roughly double in size before proceeding.

Sourdough Burger Buns

Makes 8

Ingredients

  • 354 g flour (I use half all purpose, half bread)
  • 110 g heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 110 g water, at room temperature
  • 37 g sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 8 g salt
  • 35 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 g mature liquid sourdough starter
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water or milk)
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Combine all the ingredients except the salt and butter and autolyse (rest) for 1 hour. I find it easiest to combine the wet ingredients in a jug and mix it into the flour using a rubber spatula.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough until gluten is moderately developed. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Add butter in two batches, mixing in the first completely before adding the second. Continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand. Consider it your arm workout for the day!
  3. Transfer dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next day, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 8 equal parts, and roughly shape as balls. Cover with oiled plastic and allow to rest for 1 hour.
  5. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. When the hour is up, reshape each portion into a tight ball and flatten gently into a disc. Arrange on baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Cover again with oiled plastic and allow to rise again at room temperature until puffy and nearly doubled. (I needed to run some errands so I put the dough in a cool part of the house and let it go for 5 hours. In a warmer room I suspect it would take 3-4 hours.)
  6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F and set an old cookie sheet on the floor of the oven. Brush each bun with the egg wash, followed by a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
    Transfer the buns to the preheated oven and immediately pour a cup of hot water into the baking sheet on the bottom of the oven (be careful! Wear oven mitts and use a long-spouted kettle if possible). Bake buns for 18-20 minutes or until rolls are nicely browned on top, rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Cool on a rack completely.