Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

rhubarb frangipane tart before bake

I know, I know. Rhubarb is so April/May and I should be baking all the berry pies and strawberry shortcakes right about now. But to be honest, I saw my first good batches of rhubarb just a week ago. Maybe it’s the Canadian weather, but I find we’re a month or two behind everyone else when it comes to produce. Strawberry picking usually starts at the end of June, and peaches come up right around Labor Day. The good news is that if rhubarb season is long over where you’re living, this versatile frangipane tart base adapts well to other seasonal fruits. Apricots, nectarines, raspberries, figs — whatever looks good in your area, use it!

This shortcrust tart dough is adapted from Dorie Greenspan. I love how it comes together so easily and doesn’t shrink on me. Whereas I like making my pie crusts by hand, I typically use a food processor for tart dough. I like my tart crusts to be more crispy than flaky, so I’m not as concerned with big butter pieces and keeping all the ingredients super cold. That being said, if you don’t have a food processor or prefer not to use one, you can mix this dough by hand too (just do it as you would pie dough). Definitely don’t skip the chilling and freezing steps; it’s what keeps the dough from shrinking! At any rate, if you do have some cracking and shrinking, you can use any leftover dough to do a quick patch job after you take the foil off during the pre-bake step.

rhubarb frangipane tart after bake

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Makes one 9-inch tart

Ingredients

For the shortcrust pastry

  • 188g / 1.5 cups AP flour
  • 63g / 1/2 c icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 128g / 9 Tbsp very cold unsalted butter, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked

For the frangipane

  • 115g / 4 ounces / 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 100g / 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 130g / 1 cup almond flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Generous pinch of salt

To finish

  • ~1/4 c strawberry or raspberry jam
  • 1/2 lb rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ~2-3in. pieces
  • Honey or confectioner’s sugar, for serving

Method

For the shortcrust pastry

  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. Add the egg 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. Place the 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 frangipane

  1. Beat butter and sugar together on high speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the first in thoroughly and scraping down the bowl before adding the second.
  3. Stir in the almond flour, followed by the vanilla and salt (either by hand or on the lowest mixer setting).

Finish the tart

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spread the jam evenly over the bottom of the cooled tart shell. Spread the frangipane over the jam using an offset spatula. Arrange the rhubarb pieces on top and gently press them into the frangipane.
  2. Bake the tart for 35-45 minutes, or until frangipane is puffed and golden. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with a sprinkling of icing sugar or a drizzle of honey. Leftovers keep well in the fridge for several days.

Cardamom cake with roasted strawberry jam

cardamom cake

This cake. Oh, this cake. I spent a lot of time imagining the different components before actually baking it, and was so happy that it just worked. It’s actually one of the layers of my brother’s upcoming wedding cake, where my guidelines were cardamom plus something fruity. The cake part was pretty easy — just a slight tweak to my favorite vanilla cake was all it took. For the filling I finally settled on a very lightly sweetened strawberry jam. Strawberries + balsamic is a favorite in our house, and I think it matches well with that woodsy cardamom flavor. Next time I’m making a double batch of jam — it’s so delicious, whether spread between cake layers, stirred into yogurt, or just eaten out of the jar. Not to mention easy — just mix and roast!

This white chocolate mascarpone buttercream is a grown-up version of cream cheese frosting. Normally I don’t care much for white chocolate, but here it offsets the tanginess of the cheeses nicely. (Definitely don’t skimp on the quality of chocolate, though! Good chocolate will make or break this frosting.) The mascarpone mellows out the flavor, though you can replace with more cream cheese if you prefer. This frosting spreads and pipes well if used right away too — and no icing sugar means no grittiness! Winning.

cardamom cake top

Cardamom Cake with Strawberry Jam and White Chocolate Mascarpone Buttercream

Makes one 3-layer, 6-inch cake

Ingredients

For the Cardamom Cake
Adapted from Cake Paper Party

  • 100g all-purpose flour
  • 113g cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground cardamom
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 2.5 large eggs, at room temperature (I crack an egg into a bowl to weigh it, beat it with a fork and add half to my other eggs. The rest gets used in omelets or for an egg wash.)
  • 170g / 6 oz. sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1/2 Tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 113g / 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • 4 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil

For the Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Jam

  • 1 pound strawberries, tops trimmed and halved (frozen is fine; keep whole and no need to defrost)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1.5 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the White Chocolate Mascarpone Buttercream

  • 255g / 9oz best quality white chocolate, chopped
  • One 8oz package regular or light cream cheese, softened
  • 4oz mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 113g / 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (or to taste)

To Finish

Method

For the cardamom cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line the bottoms of three 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease and flour the pans.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream and vanilla bean paste. Set aside.
  3. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and sugar in a medium bowl and mix on low 30 seconds to blend.
  4. Add butter and vegetable oil to flour mix and mix on low for 30 seconds to moisten dry ingredients. The mixture should look like wet sand.
  5. Add half of egg mixture and beat on medium-high for 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture and beat on low for 30 seconds more.
  6. Divide evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset palette knife. Bake for about 25-35 minutes until the cake is well done (the top should feel springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean). Cool 10-20 minutes in pan and then turn out to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting; wrap in two layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate/freeze if using more than a day later. (I definitely recommend chilling the cakes completely before assembling.)

For the Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Jam:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a roasting pan and stir to combine well. Allow mixture to sit for 15-30 minutes to macerate. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 275F.
  2. Roast for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occasionally. The mixture should look dark and syrupy.
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before transferring to a jar and refrigerating. I let the jam cool completely in the fridge and puree it in a food processor before using as cake filling. You can strain the jam beforehand if you like a thicker jam, though I didn’t find this necessary. If you choose to strain, definitely reserve the syrup for brushing on cake layers / adding to drinks / drizzling on ice cream!

For the White Chocolate Mascarpone Buttercream:

  1. Place white chocolate in a microwaveable bowl.
  2. Microwave at 15 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until chocolate is mostly melted. Before chocolate is completely melted, stir until smooth allowing the residual heat to finish the melting process. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Place softened cream cheese, mascarpone and butter in a large bowl and beat on low speed until creamy.
    Beat mixture on low speed until creamy and well combined.
  4. Add melted white chocolate and continue mixing on low to incorporate. Scrape down the side of the bowl as necessary.
  5. Add in lemon juice and beat until smooth. Use immediately.

To Assemble:

  1. Tint your buttercream and level cakes if desired. Place one cake round on a cake board and brush generously with simple syrup.
  2. Pipe a dam of buttercream around the edge and fill the center with about 1/4 c strawberry jam. Repeat process until all layers have been used, placing the last layer cut side down.
  3. Spread an even layer of buttercream over the entire cake to seal in the crumbs. If you’re doing the ruffle pattern as pictured, I suggest doing a thick crumb coat (i.e. try not to have cake layers visible). Chill cake for 20-30 minutes to set the frosting.
  4. Complete frosting as desired. I followed this tutorial for the ruffle pattern. For the top, I tinted the buttercream slightly darker and used an open star tip to pipe rosettes and stars, then finished with a light dusting of white sprinkles.

cardamom cake 2

Banana Bundt Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Ganache Drizzle

banana bundt
Summer is almost upon us and that means BBQs, picnics, and backyard get-togethers! While I love me a good layer cake, sometimes you just want a simple, unfussy dessert to take to a potluck; and this is is just that sort of cake. This delicious banana cake is a snap to whip up, and it’s totally fine to make ahead — it actually gets more moist after an overnight rest. Do use your blackest, deadest bananas for this recipe for the best flavor. Typically I keep a bag of overripe bananas (peeled) in the freezer and just defrost what I need in the microwave.

I made this cake in my 6-Cup Nordic Ware Heritage bundt pan. It’s my favorite shape because it’s dramatic and doesn’t really need any embellishment; but chocolate + banana is always a good idea so this cake got a little chocolate sour cream ganache drizzle. If you have a 10-12 cup bundt pan, double all the ingredients.

Banana Bundt Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Ganache Drizzle

Serves 8

Ingredients

For the Banana Bundt Cake:

  • 210g all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Heaped 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 113g butter, room temperature
  • 200g / 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 115g / 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 325g / about 2 large very ripe mashed bananas

For the Chocolate Sour Cream Ganache:

  • 40g good quality chocolate, milk or dark, chopped
  • 40g sour cream

Method

For the Banana Bundt Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 6-cup bundt pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl or jug, whisk together the sour cream, vanilla, and bananas. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and creamy (about 5 minutes). Add the egg and mix in thoroughly.
  4. On low speed, mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. Gently mix in the sour cream/vanilla/banana mixture until you have a smooth batter.
  5. Pour into the prepared bundt pan and level the top with an offset palette knife. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. If the cake is browning too quickly, cover it with a piece of foil to prevent scorching.
  6. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before turning out of the bundt pan. Allow cake to cool completely before glazing.

For the Chocolate Sour Cream Ganache:

  1. Combine the chocolate and sour cream in a heatproof bowl and heat over a bain-marie. Whisk constantly until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in 20 second increments in the microwave, then whisk in the sour cream. Just ensure that the sour cream is at room temperature; otherwise, the ganache may curdle.
  2. Allow to cool at room temperature slightly before drizzling over the cake.

Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

rice krispie treat stack

Here’s the thing: I don’t mind complicated recipes. Since I break a lot of my baking into multiple days, a long list of directions doesn’t usually put me off. Plus, there’s something really satisfying about seeing larger projects come to life!

But sometimes you just need simple, 30-minutes-no-oven-required back pocket recipes; and this is one of those gems. These are not your back-of-the-box Rice Krispie treats. These are BROWN BUTTER RICE KRISPIE TREATS. But good news, they’re practically just as easy as the original recipe. What makes them special?

  • Brown butter. If you’re going to melt the butter anyways, why not take a few extra minutes and brown it for that extra delicious nutty edge? Oh yeah, this also calls for double the butter compared to the original recipe, because you only live once (don’t worry, it’s not so much that they’re greasy).
  • More marshmallows. WAY more marshmallows. And some are left unmelted for an extra surprise. Nothing is worse than a dry Rice Krispie Treat.
  • Thick, bakery-style pieces. I like my treats tall, so I make them in an 8×8 pan (I do the same thing with brownies). Double the recipe if you’re making this in a 9×13 pan; no thin and wimpy Rice Krispie treats here!
  • Salt. One of my pet peeves is under-salted baked goods. Especially when you’ve got all the sweetness from the marshmallows in there — you need a little bit of salt to round out the flavor. You might as well throw a dash of vanilla in there while you’re at it.

OK, enough talking. Here we go!

rice krispie treats close up

Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

Makes 9 – 16 treats, depending on how big you like them

Ingredients

  • 113g / 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 425g / 10 cups mini marshmallows, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
  • Dash of pure vanilla extract
  • 160g / 6 cups crispy rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies (about half a 12-ounce box)

Method

  1. Line an 8×8 pan with foil. Lightly butter or oil the foil for easy removal. Measure out all your ingredients — this is a quick and simple recipe, but once you start, you do need to move quickly!
  2. In a large pot over medium-low heat, brown the butter. It will melt, foam, turn clear gold, then finally start browning (and smelling nutty). Stir frequently with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as needed.
  3. When the butter has browned, take the pan off the heat and add the salt, vanilla, and 8 cups of marshmallows. Stir constantly until the marshmallows are melted and you have a smooth mixture. If the residual heat from the butter isn’t enough to melt the mallows completely, turn the heat back to low.
  4. Add the cereal and stir until evenly coated with the marshmallow mixture. Stir in the remaining two cups of mini marshmallows.
  5. Immediately scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and, using a greased silicon spatula or a piece of greased parchment/wax paper, press it firmly into an even layer. Let cool completely at room temperature before cutting into squares.
  6. Store in an airtight container and eat within 3 days.

rice krispie treats in hand

rice krispie treats marshmallows

Scoring bread

One of my favorite parts of baking bread is scoring. It’s like a baker’s signature — a special touch showing the loaf was made with love by hand. But it goes beyond just looks — proper scoring controls the way bread expands in the oven. Basically, you’re creating weak spots in the dough where the steam will escape (otherwise it’ll just burst out of any weak spots created during shaping). An unscored loaf that’s allowed to burst at will has a certain rustic loveliness, but usually I opt to do a little playing with sharp objects because it’s just so fun!

Like every other part of bread baking, scoring takes practice and it can take awhile to get comfortable with it — especially when you just get maybe one or two chances to try it each week. I’m certainly no scoring expert, but I’ve definitely seen my designs improve after learning a few tricks over the months.

Start with cold dough

It is much easier to score dough that is well chilled. The surface is firmer and less fragile. I typically proof my loaves overnight, so this isn’t a problem. If you’re proofing at room temperature, try sticking your loaf in the fridge (I’ve heard some folks use the freezer too) when it’s nearly ready for at least half an hour. Additionally, I like to uncover my loaves (and keep them in the fridge) while the oven is preheating. This dries out the surface just a little, which also helps make cleaner cuts.

Always use a sharp blade

There are several different tools you can use to score, but my favorite by far is the traditional lame. I like this Mure & Peyrot lame because it’s inexpensive and you can easily rotate and change out the razor blade. I usually flip or switch out the blade every few loaves so I’m always working with a really sharp razor. If you use a dull razor your blade is more likely to snag and you won’t get a nice, sharp design. Additionally, I like to dip my blade in water right before scoring as this seems to help the blade move more smoothly as well. If I’m doing a lot of cuts, I’ll dip every line or so just to clean off any flour or residue that the blade might pick up.

Dust with rice flour

This is optional, but if you’d like your design to stand out, use a small sieve to dust your loaf evenly with a thin layer of rice flour before scoring. This will create contrast, and rice flour has a high burning point so your loaf won’t taste like burnt flour. You can see an example of me dusting a loaf (and doing a single score) in this Instagram video.

Score according to the dough

I don’t usually plan my scores out ahead of time; instead, I try to judge what type of score will best suit the dough. For example, if I have a lot of add-ins like nuts and dried fruit, I’ll usually opt for a simple score like a single slash. Same thing if the dough feels especially weak — perhaps due to high hydration or overproofing (too many cuts can cause these loaves to collapse and spread).

If the dough is well developed and proofed, it can handle more intricate scoring. While I don’t have a signature score yet, I tend to favor a large slash with some type of leaf pattern. I like the contrast of the large and small cuts, and I love the way the leaf pattern blooms in the oven. This Instagram video shows me doing both a large slash and some leaf pattern work.

Know your angle

If you’re trying to get ears, hold the blade at a shallow angle (about 40-45 degrees) to the dough and score about 1/4″ deep. If you’re not, hold the blade perpendicular to the dough. The amount of steam you can generate in your oven coupled with the development of your dough will also affect how well your cuts bloom.

Move decisively

My scores turn out best when I move quickly and, honestly, don’t think about it too much. Trust me, the dough can sense your fear and if you are tentative with your cuts your blade is more likely to snag. Try to keep your wrist still as you move the blade, and think in terms of long lines rather than individual cuts when scoring things like leaf patterns. When you’re first starting out, it’s helpful to hold the lame closer to the blade (like choking up on a bat) as you’ll have better control. As you get more used to scoring you’ll figure out a position that’s comfortable for you.

Cooking on a budget

slice of bread
Between buying a new house and preparing for baby #2, my husband and I decided a few weeks ago that it wouldn’t hurt to keep a close eye on our spending. We’re grateful that we’ve always had more than enough to live comfortably, but buckling down now and then never hurts. So we budgeted a conservative amount per week to spend on food/gas/miscellaneous, and went from there.

Since I do the majority of meal prep in our house, I’ve been particularly keen on cooking budget meals and finding ways to save on groceries…without sacrificing on taste and nutrition (having both a growing toddler and a pregnant lady to feed). Constraints often force the discovery of new ingredients and preparations, and this has definitely proven true even just a few weeks into this exercise. A few principles — none new, but diligently practicing them is another ballgame — have helped with belt-tightening:

Practice portion control
This has less to do with how much we eat per meal, but with how much we prepare and buy. I’m finding that for our family of 2.5, preparing food for 4-6 leaves us with enough for dinner, plus a couple lunches. That’s plenty. If there are too many leftovers, they inevitably hide out in the back of the fridge and go bad. Similarly, while buying in bulk is sometimes cheaper, the savings are canceled if you buy more than you can use.

Stretch meat
We do enjoy meat and are in the habit of buying less expensive cuts (think chicken thighs and certain Asian market cuts of beef), but we’ve also taken to using just a little less per meal — for example, using just two sausages in a soup instead of the called-for four. On-sale meat is something I do buy in bulk, then freeze in ~1 pound portions (butchers will often portion it out for you if you ask).

Rediscover rice and beans
Rice has long been a staple in our house, but we are learning to appreciate different types of beans and legumes. I have to say, the Instant Pot has really helped out here as it takes only ~20 minutes to cook up a batch of beans instead of a couple hours! We’ve also started trying more dal recipes using different types of lentils, and they’ve been a big hit. Fresh spices are key here; and this is another instance where I’ll buy from the local bulk store — not because I can buy a whole bunch but because I can get just the amount I need — 30 cents worth of tumeric, for instance.

Plan meals
I’ve never been much into weekly meal planning before; and I’ll probably never be the type to detail everything I’ll cook in the coming week. But I am trying to plan out at least the main courses several days in advance now, rather than just a couple. Mainly this is to cut down on unnecessary trips to the store where inevitably extraneous groceries make it into the shopping cart. I am in the habit of shopping the weekly grocery ads (the Flipp app is super helpful), which definitely helps determine what we’ll be eating.

I’m also trying to be more regular about preparing things that can be quickly thrown together for nutritious breakfasts/lunches — for example, boiling a dozen eggs and baking up a batch of granola at the beginning of the week; chopping up cheese cubes; baking a batch of muffins and freezing a portion. And of course a loaf of sourdough bread is almost always available.

Shop your pantry and freezer
One of the first things I did when we started this exercise was to take stock of what we already had at home. (Favorite rice vermicelli recipes, anyone? Because I have a lot…) Since we’re moving soon anyways, it makes sense to try to use up what’s in our pantry and freezer. I’m pretty good about knowing what meats we have in stock, but not so great at remembering our dry goods stash. (This ties back in with the first principle — don’t buy more than you can [remember to] use…) So I’m trying to do a better job of working in the wealth of neglected pantry items into meal planning.

Eat seasonally
Fruits and veggies get a bad rap for being expensive. If you’re buying strawberries in December, sure…but as long as you eat with the seasons, fresh produce is very affordable. (Plus, in-season always tastes better.)

What are some of your favorite budget recipes? Here are a just a few we’ve used for inspiration:

Recipes

My Favorite Granola

Granola is a bit like banana bread: there are a zillion different recipes out there, and many of them are good. But over time, you find that one recipe that checks all the boxes for you, and it becomes your house standard. This is mine. It’s my favorite because it’s crunchy, has clusters, and isn’t overly sweet. Paired with fresh berries and Greek yogurt, it’s one of my go-to quick breakfasts. But I’ve also been known to eat it by the handful for a mid-afternoon snack and sprinkle it on frozen yogurt for dessert.

The method and base recipe are from Tara O’Brady’s cookbook Seven Spoons. The original recipe calls for candied ginger and cacao nibs, which I omit (they sound delightful but aren’t normally stocked in my pantry). I’ve played around with different nuts and seeds, and the version below is what I typically use. But like most good granola recipes, this one is easily adaptable. Swap the sesame seeds out for flax or chia; use whatever nuts you have in stock; switch up the spices to suit your palate; omit the coconut if it’s not your thing.

Basic Granola Recipe

Adapted from Seven Spoons by Tara O’Brady | Makes about 8 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 3 Tablespoons pure maple syrup

  • 100g (1/2 cup) packed light brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 455g (5 cups) old-fashioned rolled oats

  • 140g (1 1/2 cups) nuts, chopped if large (I like a mix of almonds, cashews, and walnuts)

  • 65g (3/4 cup) unsweetened flaked coconut

  • 35g (1/4 cup) sesame seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 150g (1 cup) dried fruit, chopped if large (I usually use figs and/or raisins)

Optional add-ins:

  • 35g (1/4 cup) raw, hulled sunflower seeds

  • 70g (1/2 cup) finely chopped candied ginger

  • 70g (1/2 cup) raw pepitas
  • Raw cacao nibs

Method

  1. Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C) with racks in the upper and lower thirds.
  2. In a saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter into the olive oil and maple syrup. Add the brown sugar, water, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring often, until the brown sugar dissolves. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and set aside to cool.
  3. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, grind 2 cups (180 g) of the oats into flour. Transfer this oat flour to a large bowl. Stir in the remaining 3 cups (275 g) whole oats, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the nuts, coconut, seeds, and cinnamon. Pour the butter and sugar mixture over everything and stir to coat. Let stand for about 10 minutes, to give the oats the opportunity to lap up the sugar syrup.
  4. Line two half sheet pans or standard baking sheets with parchment paper. Using your hands, drop the oat mixture in clumps onto the pans, then bake in the preheated oven until dry, light golden, and evenly toasted, 40 to 50 minutes, gently stirring and turning the granola with a large spatula every 15 minutes or so and rotating the pans once from top to bottom and front to back.
  5. Remove from the oven and leave the granola on the pans. The granola will continue to crisp as it stands. After 5 minutes, stir in the candied ginger and pepitas (if using). Once the granola has cooled completely, stir in the dried fruit and the cacao nibs (if using).
  6. Transfer the granola to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Mini 4-inch Vanilla Cake

mini vanilla cake

Who doesn’t love a mini cake? They’re perfect for smash cakes, birthdays, or — let’s face it — a Monday night when you want dessert but don’t want the temptation of a big, fat layer cake lurking in the fridge all week.

I’ve made quite a few mini cakes in the past. Normally I just bake an 8-inch layer and stamp out the layers using a round cookie cutter. This works really well, but it does leave you with a bit of cake scraps. Plus, I wanted to find a recipe that would perfectly fit my cute little 4 inch cake pans.

Turns out my go-to vanilla cake recipe, scaled down, worked like a charm with just the slightest bit of tweaking. One of the things I like about this particular recipe is that it bakes up fairly flat (thanks to the reverse-creaming mixing method, which produces a fine, dense crumb), a big plus when dealing with a small amount of cake (you don’t want to level off half the cake just to get a flat surface!). This cake is also sturdy, which makes assembly a lot easier (fluffier cakes are harder to layer, small-scale).

You can fill and frost this any way you want, but I opted for some strawberry jam and a super simple cream cheese frosting. This frosting is a nice, quick number that doesn’t require bringing any ingredients to room temperature. It wouldn’t be my first choice for doing fancy piping work, but it’s light and tasty and is easy to work with.

By the way, I made this particular cake to celebrate the fact that we’re having a GIRL!

mini vanilla cake sliced

Mini 4-inch vanilla cake

Makes 1 four-layer, four-inch cake | Serves 2-4

Ingredients

Mini Vanilla Cake
Adapted from Cake Paper Party

  • 50g all-purpose flour
  • 56g cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 95g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 100g sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 57g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 2 Tbsp neutral vegetable oil (I like canola or grapeseed)

Quick Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from The Fauxmartha

  • 1 c heavy cream, cold
  • 113g / 4 oz. cream cheese, cold
  • 63g / 1/2 c icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To Assemble

  • ~1/4 c strawberry preserves/jam (preferably on the thick side)
  • Simple syrup
  • Sprinkles, if desired

Method

For the mini vanilla cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line the bottoms of two 4-inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease and flour the pans.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, sour cream and vanilla bean paste. Set aside.
  3. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a medium bowl and mix on low 30 seconds to blend.
  4. Add butter and vegetable oil to flour mix and mix on low for 30 seconds to moisten dry ingredients. The mixture should look like wet sand.
  5. Add half of egg mixture and beat on medium-high for 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture and beat on low for 30 seconds more.
  6. Divide evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset palette knife. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the cake is well done (the top should feel springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean). Cool 10-20 minutes in pan and then turn out to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting; wrap in two layers of plastic wrap and refrigerate/freeze if using more than a day later. (I definitely recommend chilling the cakes completely before assembling.)

For the quick cream cheese frosting:

  1. Combine the cold cream, icing sugar, cream of tartar, and vanilla in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until the mixture reaches stiff peaks. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. In another bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and spreadable, about two minutes. Add the cream cheese to the whipped cream mixture and beat at medium speed until completely smooth. Use immediately.

To assemble:

  1. Level the cakes and cut each cake in half for a total of four layers. Use a dollop of frosting to stick the first layer on a 4-inch cake board. Brush with simple syrup. Pipe a frosting border around the edge and fill the center with about 1 Tbsp of jam. Repeat until you have used all the layers.
  2. Spread a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides and refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes to set. Frost as desired*, and top with sprinkles!

*For the watercolor effect, I tinted two small portions of frosting (~1/2 cup) different shades of pink (using Americolor Dusty Rose), then randomly dolloped little bits all over the sides. I used an icing scraper to blend the colors and smooth the frosting out, and an offset palette knife to give the frosting a little bit of texture for a rustic finish.

mini vanilla cake from above

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.