Project Wedding Cake

wedding cake love

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

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

wedding cake closeup

wedding cake cutting

Cake Flavors and Design

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

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

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

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

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

Tiering and Transportation

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

wedding cake ready to decorate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wedding cake backlit

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

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.

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.)

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.