Berry Balsamic Pie + Pie Tips

berry pieSummer is here, which for me means it’s farmers’ market season! One of our favorite Saturday summer activities is going early to our local market and letting the fresh produce inspire us for the next week’s meals. I especially love checking out (and sampling) the fresh berries — I can eat them like candy. And then, of course, there is pie. Delicious berry pie.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on improving my pie game. My first couple of homemade crust attempts were pretty scary and not so pretty, but each time I’ve learned something new and I finally feel like I’m getting it down. I know there are a million tips out there for making perfect pie crusts; and I think every pie maker eventually learns what works best for him or her. But for what it’s worth, here are some things that have helped me improve my pies.

Cold ingredients = more tender, flaky pie crust. Everyone emphasizes this because it’s true. I chill my flour and freeze my butter at least 1/2 an hour before mixing up a crust. If you ever feel your butter starting to get too soft, just stick your operation in the fridge for 10 minutes so you don’t end up with melty butter.

Fraisage and roll. I’ve started using these techniques for my last few crusts. It’s not necessary, but it does seem to make the crust flakier and easier to roll out in the end. I especially recommend these couple extra steps with partially whole-grain crusts.

Chill out. Pies bake up best from a chilled state. Your crust won’t shrink as much and the lattice you spent so much time doing will have a better chance of not collapsing into your filling. I like chilling my completed pie at least 20 minutes before baking (or until crust is firm). You can also roll out your bottom crust the night before and chill it in the pie plate, covered. Chill your lattice strips before weaving too; they’ll be easier to work with.

Macerate your fruits. With fruit pies, toss your fruit with a few tablespoons of sugar and let sit for an hour or more. This will draw out the juices which you can either leave behind or boil down and add to your pie in a concentrated syrupy form (i.e. your pie will be flavorful but not soggy from all the excess juices).

Take it easy with the decorations. I love looking at beautiful, fancy pie crusts on Instagram and Pinterest; and designing a fancy top is a great way to flex your creative muscles while making a traditionally rustic dessert. Just be careful not to overhandle your crust and go too thick on your cutouts / braids / lattice. Otherwise your top crust will take a lonnng time to bake and end up being tough and gross; and that would just be sad. Also, if you do want to make one of those extra fancy crusts with the braids and lattice and cutouts, plan to make at least 1.5 times a regular amount of crust. (For the pie pictured here I used a normal double crust recipe but used every last scrap.)

Happy pie making!

Berry Balsamic Pie

Adapted from Four and Twenty Blackbirds

For the crust:

  • Your favorite double all-butter double pie crust (9-10 in.); I like this for a classic all-butter and this for a partially whole-grain

For the filling:

  • 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 lb. mixed berries, rinsed and quartered if large (5 to 6 cups) — I used a mix of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries
  • 1 small baking apple (such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious)
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. minute tapioca, finely ground
  • A few grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water or cream and a pinch of salt)
  • Demerara sugar, for finishing

Method:

  1. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the berries. Stir gently to combine and allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Roll out half of your pie crust and place it into your greased pie plate. Refrigerate while preparing the filling. Roll out your top crust and either leave whole or cut lattice strips if desired. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet and refrigerate as well.
  3. Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. Drain the berries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple.
  4. Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and Angostura bitters. In a separate bowl, mix together the brown sugar, tapioca, black pepper and salt. Gently fold the sugar mixture into the berry mixture.
  5. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry. Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  6. Brush the pastry with the egg wash; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of Demerara sugar. Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown.
  7. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

Labneh Cheesecake

cheesecake fullI’ve been lactose-intolerant for 20 years. I’m not allergic to dairy; am fine with butter, yogurt, and eggs (whew!); and can handle small amounts of milk / cream baked into food. But I can’t drink a glass of milk or eat a normal ice cream cone without unfortunate consequences. Although there are lots of dairy alternatives nowadays, there are a couple of things I’d resigned to just living without — delicious melty cheese on pizza and cheesecake.

Lately, though, I’d been pondering the idea of using labneh — or yogurt cheese — as the basis for a cheesecake I could eat. Strained Greek yogurt can be a delicious accompaniment to cake, and even added to whipped cream for extra flavor; so it seemed like it was worth a shot.

cheesecake sliceGuys, this recipe is a game changer for me. I actually ate a whole piece of cheesecake without worrying about stomach issues and ENJOYED IT. It was smooth and creamy and subtly tangy. It also went over well with people that aren’t lactose intolerant — a good sign in my book. Oh, and as far as desserts go, it’s quite healthy!

I made this with homemade labneh (lowfat Greek yogurt strained for 24 hours – Liberte brand). I suspect it’ll work fine with store-bought labneh; though as it is the main ingredient you’ll want to go for a good quality one with a nice firm texture. I topped mine with salted caramel sauce, but imagine it would go well with any number of toppings (you could go fairly sweet if you prefer as the cheesecake itself is mildly sweet).

This recipe is quite easy, though for best results make it a day ahead so it has time to set overnight in the fridge. This improves the texture of the cake and makes for easy slicing.

Salted Caramel Labneh Cheesecake

Makes 1 six-inch cheesecake | Adapted from Hungry Couple NYC

For the base:

  • Your favorite graham cracker crust (I used a half recipe of this one, swapping out toasted walnuts for the pistachios)

For the filling:

  • 250 gr / 1 cup labneh (lowfat or full-fat; storebought or homemade), room temperature
  • 60 gr / 1/4 cup lactose-free sour cream, full-fat, room temperature
  • 1 t lemon zest
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 1 t pure vanilla etract
  • 1/4 t kosher salt
  • 50 gr / 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 65 gr / 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • hot water, for the water bath

For the topping:

Salted caramel sauce, storebought or homemade

Method:

  1. Grease and line the bottom and sides of a 6-inch springform pan or cake ring with parchment paper.
  2. Prepare your graham cracker crust, pre-baking and cooling completely if needed.
  3. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare your pan for a water bath by wrapping your springform in a double layer of foil and placing in a large roasting pan (or a larger cake pan at least 1/3x bigger).
  4. Mix together labneh and sour cream on medium speed until smooth.
  5. Add in lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and mix until combined.
  6. Sift in cake flour and sugar and mix on low speed until just combined.
  7. Add egg and mix on low speed until just combined — do not overmix, but the batter should be smooth and uniform in color.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.
  9. Transfer pan to oven and fill the larger pan with 1/2 – 1 inch of hot water.
  10. Bake for about 30 minutes, until edges are firm but center is still a little jiggly. Turn off oven and allow cake to cool for about 10 minutes, then remove from water bath and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  11. Once completely cool, refrigerate uncovered for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight before de-panning.
  12. Spread top with salted caramel sauce (or your topping of choice), slice, and serve!

Raspberry Lime Pie

full-topped
One of my pet peeves is having little bits of ingredients taking up space in the fridge. It seems like I always have a touch of sauce or cream or frosting leftover and I feel wasteful throwing it away. The bright side is that this forces me to get creative with dessert flavor combinations, and I end up making things I wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

This pie, for example.

swirlOriginally I’d planned on just making plain old key lime pie, as it’s one of David’s favorites. (Confession: I’ve never been able to easily find key limes, so I always use plain old limes…someday, someday.) But I had a couple spoonfuls of raspberry sauce leftover from one cake, and a handful of crushed pistachios from another. And also some sour cream from…something. So in they all went. I’m quite happy with the end result — it’s a nice springy twist on an old standby.

I’ve never been very happy with my graham cracker crusts — they’ve either shrunk or bled butter. This adaptation from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook has been the most successful to date. I’ve also found freezing the crust before baking helps minimize shrinkage, and you can use a piece of parchment paper to gently “fix” slumps or unevenness while the crust is still warm.

Raspberry Lime Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie | Adapted from Milk and Smitten Kitchen

Graham Pistachio Crust Ingredients

  • 190 g / 1.5 c graham cracker crumbs
  • 35 g / 1/4 c crushed raw unsalted pistachios
  • 20 g / 1/4 c milk powder
  • 14 g / 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 5 g / 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 55 g / 4 tbsp butter, melted
  • 55 g / 1/4 cup heavy cream

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to evenly distribute.
  2. Whisk butter and heavy cream together. Add to the dry ingredients and toss to evenly distribute. The mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in the palm of your hand.
  3. Press evenly into a greased 9-inch pie pan. Freeze crust until hard, about 10 minutes.
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes in preheated oven. If crust slumps during baking, use a piece of parchment paper to gently reshape it while still warm. Allow crust to cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Raspberry Lime Filling Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 14-ounce (396-gram) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup (155 ml) fresh lime juice (from about 1 dozen tiny key limes or 4 persian/regular limes)
  • 2 T seedless raspberry preserves or jam

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Zest limes into the bottom of a medium bowl until you have 1 1/2 tablespoons. Beat zest and egg yolks with an electric mixer until pale and thick, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat until thickened again, about 3 minutes more.
  3. Squeeze zested limes until you have 2/3 cups juice. Whisk into yolk mixture until combined. Pour filling into graham crust.
  4. Using a spoon or squeeze bottle, drop dots of raspberry preserves on top of filling. Use a toothpick or knife to swirl into the filling.
  5. Bake pie for 10-15 minutes, until set but not browned on top at all. Let pie cool completely before adding topping (ideally, chill at least a couple hours in the fridge).

Topping Ingredients

  • 3/4 – 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar, to taste
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sour cream (optional)
  • Lime zest and crushed pistachios (optional garnish)

Method:

In a medium bowl, beat cream until soft peaks are formed. Add sugar and sour cream, if using, and beat until desired thickness (do not overbeat). Spread over top of chilled pie. Ideally, pie should be chilled at least another 2 to 3 hours with the cream on top so that it can fully set before you take a slice.

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Chinese Swiss Roll

sliced swiss roll

Sometime last year, I thought it would be fun to make a Swiss roll. Even though my family didn’t eat much cake when I was growing up, we did all enjoy these roulade cakes from the local Asian supermarket — usually plain, but also coffee or chocolate flavored. If you’ve never had one before, Swiss rolls are a light and fluffy sponge cake usually rolled up with whipped cream. They are a nice, not-too-sweet dessert that pairs well with coffee or tea.

Anyways, my first Swiss roll attempt was a flop. The cake broke when I flipped it out of the pan. It tasted ok, though the bake was a bit uneven (probably because I didn’t rotate the pan and slightly underbaked it). I didn’t try again until last week, when I was looking for a recipe to use up some whipping cream from my last cake.

Second attempt: also a fail. The cake made it out of the pan in one piece, but it stuck to the paper and broke when I tried to roll it.

At this point, it became less about actually wanting to eat Swiss roll and more about wanting to BEAT MY NEMESIS. I read a bunch of Swiss roll recipes and tips and decided to try a different baking method. I was really careful about measuring out all the ingredients ahead of time and prepping the various baking utensils and surfaces. And…success! The cake came out in one piece and actually resembled a roll when all was said and done. I tried again a couple days later just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and it worked again! Very exciting.

untrimmed swiss roll

Some things I learned:

  • Measure out all your ingredients ahead of time and read the instructions through to the end a few times. The batter isn’t hard to put together, but it does require you to move quickly so your batter doesn’t collapse.
  • I highly recommend weighing your ingredients for best results.
  • Watch the cake carefully at the end, checking every 30 seconds or so when it’s near the end. Because it’s so thin, it can go from underdone to overdone just like that. That being said, make sure the cake is completely done before you take it out our you’ll end up with gross mushy cake.
  • I’ve tried to explain the rolling process below, but it’s easier to watch it. This video from Fine Cooking is helpful.

uncut swiss roll

Chinese Swiss Roll

Serves 8

Ingredients

Batter A

  • 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 50g / 1/2 c caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 85g / 1/3 c milk, at room temperature
  • 55g / 1/4 c neutral oil
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g / 1 c cake flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

Batter B

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 50g / 1/2 c caster sugar

Other

  • 1-2 tbsp icing sugar

Filling & Garnish

  • 1/2 c whipping cream
  • 3-4 tsp caster sugar or to taste
  • Icing sugar, optional garnish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Line a 13″ x 9″ inch baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Batter A:

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, caster sugar and salt into a thick batter. Pour in milk and mix well. Pour in oil and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Sift in cake flour and baking powder into the batter and stir slowly into a thick batter. Do not overmix.

Batter B:

  • In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until foamy. Slowly add in the caster sugar and beat to stiff peaks.

Combine:

  1. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk batter. When they are almost combined, add another 1/3 of the whites. When almost combined, add the final 1/3. Fold gently, but thoroughly. When you are finished, the batter should be a uniform color with no streaks of white remaining.
  2. Immediately pour batter into prepared oven and spread evenly with a knife. drop the tin on the counter several times to pop and large air bubbles. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-17 minutes, rotating pan once after 10 minutes, or until the cake is springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean.
  3. While the cake is baking, prepare a clean linen tea towel (larger than the cake) and measure out some icing sugar.
  4. As soon as the cake is done, run a knife around the edges. Allow to cool for a minute or two. Sift the icing sugar over the top of the cake. Spread the tea towel over the cake, and place a large sheet pan or cutting board on top of the tea towel. Invert the cake onto the towel. Gently remove the parchment paper. Starting on a short end, gently but tightly roll the cake up with the towel inside. Allow cake to cool completely inside the towel.
  5. When the cake is cool, beat the whipping cream and sugar to taste to stiff peaks. Gently unroll the cake and remove the towel. On one short end of the cake (whichever looks more curled), use a sharp knife to score three parallel lines about 1/2 a centimeter apart (this will help the rolling process). Spread the cream evenly over the cake, leaving about an inch around the edges so the filling doesn’t seep out. Starting from the scored end, gently roll the cake back up. Transfer seam side down to a serving plate, and refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

To serve

  • Slice the ends off the cake and dust with additional icing sugar if desired.

Another Chocolate Cake

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This past Valentine’s Day, I asked David what kind of cake he wanted. He told me, “I like that chocolate raspberry one.” I like that one too, but was also itching to try some new recipes. So I made another chocolate raspberry cake, this time with Swiss meringue buttercream (more on that later), espresso ganache, and more of that raspberry sauce from the original cake, because it’s just that good.

I never baked layer cakes until last year. My family wasn’t really into cake (often we’d just turn a carton of ice cream into birthday “cake” by decorating it with candy and sprinkles), so there wasn’t much reason to learn. While I think I’m still more of a pie person in general, I’ve started to find real enjoyment in making layer cakes. In a weird way it reminds me of planning a themed concert, which was one of my favorite parts of running a chamber music collective. We’d start out with a theme, and then try to think of different ways of representing that theme. Contrast was important, but all the components still had to make sense together. Other considerations included timing, instrumentalists available, and audience.

With layer cakes, you choose a general cake flavor, then the contrasting / complimenting ones. You have to plan when to make each component so that that everything will be ready at the same time. In my very limited experience, I’ve learned that it’s a 3 day process for me — bake the cake layers first so they can chill/freeze, then make all the components (frosting, filling, glazes etc.), and finally assemble everything and decorate. I’m sure it could be done in a single day, but I usually don’t have that much uninterrupted time; plus, it keeps me from burning out and getting lazy (which is when I tend to forget / drop things).

Anyways, if you got through all that cheesy analogy stuff, wow — thanks. You’re probably a good friend of mine or a family member, ha. So about this cake…

I’d been wanting to bake this particular chocolate cake for awhile as I’ve seen it raved about on The Vanilla Bean Blog, Hummingbird High, and a few other baking blogs. Also, it has coffee, which is never a bad thing in my book.

The consensus: this cake is a keeper. It’s moist and not too sweet, with a beautiful dark color from the cocoa + coffee combo and a rich chocolatey flavor. The other cake has a finer crumb and a nice buttery mouth feel, but this one is more moist. Let’s just say I’d make both of them again.
chocodrips

Buttercream: frosting is my least favorite part of cake (unless it’s cream cheese frosting) because it’s often so cloyingly sweet. So, I wanted to try making Swiss meringue buttercream, because it seems to be the preferred frosting for a lot of pro bakers — main reasons being it’s easy to work with and not too sweet. However, it’s also a bit finicky to make because you have to dissolve the sugar in the egg whites and make sure all the ingredients are the right temperature before combining everything. There are lots of articles about “how to fix buttercream” and “why your buttercream broke” etc. etc., so I knew I was in for a bit of a challenge.

Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of fun making this buttercream. I don’t own a stand mixer, so it took a LOOOOOOONG time to beat the egg white mixture with my handheld until it was cool enough to add the butter. I also made it the night before decorating (because that was when el bebe was asleep for the night and I’ve learned not to attempt lenghty-ish processes during the day), so I had to re-beat it the next day anyways. I found it difficult to keep at a good temperature for decorating because our kitchen was a smidge warm, plus I did get interrupted a few times by the infant child. So I had to keep refrigerating and re-beating and it got a little annoying. In the end it turned out ok — it was much less sweet than American buttercream. There are a ton of recipes out there, so next time I might try one with a higher proportion of egg whites to butter because I’d like to get it even lighter and silkier. Also, I’d probably borrow a stand mixer. And make it the day of decorating. Basically I need more practice and experimentation.

Ganache/Glaze: SO GOOD, and so easy. I had to freeze the leftovers so I wouldn’t eat it all with a spoon. I basically let it sit while I wrestled with the buttercream. Definitely not high maintenance. If I ever feel like making truffles, I’d fill them with this ganache.

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Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Buttercream and Espresso Ganache

Makes one 2-layer, 8-inch cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (200g) cake flour
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (69g) good cocoa powder (I used dutch processed)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken (I substituted 1T vinegar plus enough milk to equal 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I used dark roast)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two 8×2 inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pans.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With a mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Divide the batter between the prepared pans (it will be very liquidy) and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely, removing parchment paper. Note: these cakes are quite delicate, so I recommend refrigerating and then freezing the layers overnight before decorating so they will be easier to handle.

Buttercream

Use your favorite vanilla buttercream (this is a good start) with a few spoonfuls of raspberry sauce and/or food coloring to get your desired shade of pink.

Espresso Ganache / Glaze

Makes one cup

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into 3/4 -inch pieces
  • 3/4 c (6 oz) heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Method

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until bubbles appear around the edge; remove from the heat (this can also be done in the microwave). Add the espresso powder and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand for several minutes. Stir the chocolate until melted and smooth. Let the ganache stand at room temperature until firm enough to spread.

Raspberry Sauce

Make one portion of the recipe here.

To Assemble

  1. Allow cake rounds to chill completely. Level if necessary.
  2. Set one layer on a cake round or platter and spread with a layer of ganache (you can be fairly generous, though reserve at least 1/3 cup or so if you want to glaze the top and sides), topped with a layer of raspberry sauce (leave a thin border around the edge so your fillings don’t seep out from the weight of the top layer).
  3. Set the other layer on top; spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides. Chill for at least half an hour before spreading a heavier layer of frosting over the entire cake.
  4. Chill again for at least half an hour before adding ganache drips along the sides and spreading it over the top (you will need to gently heat the ganache to get it to a glaze consistency — this was about 20 seconds in the microwave for me). Style Sweet CA has a great tutorial on drippy cakes.
  5. Garnish as desired (I used fresh raspberries, cocoa nibs, and crushed pistachios). Chill if not serving right away, but serve at room temperature with plenty of raspberry sauce. Cake keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

Carrot Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

carrot cake yayDavid and I are celebrating our second anniversary today — yay! As part of the celebration, I thought it’d be fun to make carrot cake, which was the top tier of our wedding cake. I’d actually never made carrot cake before, despite it being one of my favorite types. But I knew exactly what I wanted — moist but not too oily, tons of carrots, nuts and raisins but no pineapple or coconut, and — of course — delicious cream cheese frosting.

For the cake, I reviewed dozens of recipes before settling on the Flour Bakery one as my starting point. For the frosting, I went with the recipe used on our original wedding cake — a white chocolate cream cheese concoction from The Cake Bible. White chocolate may sound like a strange match for a carrot cake, but it really works nicely — the chocolate lends a rounder, richer flavor compared to just plain icing sugar; and a touch of lemon juice provides the perfect tang. This frosting is definitely decadent — I frosted the cake conservatively (with about half a cup left over), and that was rich enough for my taste.

carrot cake side

carrot cake single

Carrot Cake

Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang | Makes one 2-layer, 8-inch cake

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (360g) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup (200g) canola oil
  • 3 tbsp buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (70g) Greek yogurt, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups (320g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 4 cups (520g) grated carrot, tightly packed (about 4 medium)
  • 1 cup (160g) raisins, soaked for at least 1 hour in boiling water and drained
  • 1 cup (100g) toasted walnuts, chopped (100g)

Method

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 2 8-inch cake pan and line the bottoms with parchment paper; then lightly grease parchment.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the eggs and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 3–4 minutes, or until the mixture is light and thick. (This step will take 8–10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. On low speed, slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. This should take about 30 seconds.
  3. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. When most of the flour mixture has been incorporated, add the carrots, raisins, and walnuts and continue to fold until the batter is homogeneous. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.
  4. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pans on a wire rack. Refrigerate or freeze cake rounds until ready to frost.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from The Cake Bible | Makes enough to frost one 8-inch, 2 layer cake

  • 9 ounces (255 grams) good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 12 ounces (340 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (23 grams) lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 15 second increments, stirring in between. When the chocolate is almost all melted, allow the residual heat to complete the melting. Cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in the lemon juice and melted chocolate. Use immediately to frost cakes (can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks ahead; bring to room temperature before using).

To Assemble

Allow cake rounds to chill completely. Level if necessary. Set one layer on a cake round or platter and spread with a thin layer of frosting (about 1/2 – 3/4 cup). Set the other layer on top; spread a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides. Chill for at least half an hour before spreading a heavier layer of frosting over the entire cake. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Cake keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

Baked Donuts, Two Ways

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unfrostedHappy New Year! We had a great time spending the holidays with my family in Seattle. Now that my brothers and I are scattered around North America, it’s rare for us to all be in the same place at once. So it was a treat to have everyone “home” again, joking and eating and enjoying each others’ company. Of course, it was particularly special this year because it was Marcus’ first Christmas. Naturally, he got the most presents (even though he slept through us opening them for him…).

It’s become customary for David and me to cook a couple meals when we’re back in Seattle, with one of them being breakfast / brunch. This year, we scored a couple donut pans during some after-Christmas shopping; so we decided to try our hand at baked sour cream donuts. We tested a couple recipes, and this one was the clear winner. I know some people will pooh-pooh thought of baked donuts; and I won’t pretend these are like the deep-fried delights we all enjoy. But they are pretty darn tasty — the double rising power of yeast and baking powder give these babies a nice light texture. Plus, they are super easy and quick to whip up — you can mix, bake, and glaze a batch in under an hour.

I’ve included a two glaze ideas here — zesty lemon and classic chocolate. Each recipe will make enough for a dozen donuts; I’ve halved the glaze recipes to do a mixed batch and had plenty of each left over. Or feel free to dress your donuts up with another flavor of your choice — this list is a good place to start. I’m definitely looking forward to playing around with some different flavors!

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Baked Donuts

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn | Makes 12

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm water or milk
  • 200 g / 2 cups cake flour
  • 215 g / 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 228 g / 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 56 g / 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two (6-count) doughnut pans with a flour-based baking spray, Arrange a wire cooling rack over a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk or water and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, melted butter, vanilla, and yeast mixture until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until completely incorporated. Transfer the batter to a disposable piping bag (or zip-top bag, snipping off one corner for piping) and pipe into the prepared pans.
  4. Bake the doughnuts until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool the doughnuts in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer the doughnuts from the pan to the wire rack.

For the lemon glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice (about half a lemon)
  • 1-2 tbsp milk, plus more to thin if needed
  • Pinch of salt
  • Poppy seeds, optional
  1. Combine the powdered sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a small bowl and stir to combine. Whisk in the lemon juice. Whisk in the milk, adding gradually until the glaze reaches desired consistency.
  2. Dip the top side of a doughnut into the glaze and twist to coat. Return to the wire rack and immediately cover with poppy seeds. Continue with remaining doughnuts. Allow glaze to dry for a few minutes before serving. (Note: You can glaze both sides if you prefer a sweeter donut.)

For the chocolate glaze:

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons milk, plus more to thin if needed
  • Rainbow sprinkles, optional
  1. Cook the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until ingredients are melted (or melt in the microwave in 15-second increments). Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk, and whisk vigorously to combine. If it seems too thick, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Remove the pan from heat.
  2. Dip the top side of a doughnut into the glaze and twist to coat. Return to the wire rack and immediately cover with sprinkles. Continue with remaining doughnuts. Allow glaze to dry for a few minutes before serving.

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Marcus’ Chocolate-Raspberry Cake

chococake1One month ago, I was having a baby. But before there was a baby, there was supposed to be chocolate cake.

Our little munchkin wasn’t due until September 16th, but starting around the 37.5 week mark I was ready to have this baby. Even though I had an easy-peasy pregnancy, the discomfort of wearing a watermelon-sized heater 24/7 during the hottest part of the year was getting old, fast. I had a feeling he’d show up a little early; but as the due date drew closer with no signs of baby, I was preparing myself for a fashionably late arrival (as both David and I had been).

At my 39-week checkup, my doctor performed a sweep and stretch, which can help encourage labor naturally (I think it’s something like a 30% success rate). That night I had some spotting and a sudden onset of chills. We called the public health hotline, and the nurse recommended I go into labor and delivery (even though I wasn’t having any contractions). I was pretty sure it wasn’t the real thing, but just to be on the safe side we went in. Sure enough, I was checked out and sent home — the chills chalked up to the changing weather and/or hormones released by the sweep and stretch.

The next day was one of our busier Saturday mornings in awhile. David had a funeral to attend, and my Mom and I met some old friends for brunch. On our way home, we stopped by a new coffee place we’d been meaning to try, and then went in search of ingredients for dinner. David wanted to BBQ, and we also had planned to make a good-bye chocolate cake for a church friend who was moving back to Taiwan. Once we got home, David went to start the BBQ while my mom and I started mixing up the chocolate cake. Around 5pm, I stuck the cake layers in the oven, stood up, and my water broke. I’d secretly hoped my water breaking would be how I knew it was time to head to the hospital, but I didn’t think it would actually happen that way. I remember feeling startled and calling over to my mom, “Um, I think my water just broke…” while standing in an ever increasing pool of water.

From that point, everything happened relatively fast. We checked into L & D half an hour later, and within the next hour I went from no contractions to full on 60-90 second contractions a few minutes apart. People say “you’ll just know” when you get real contractions, and I know what they mean now. I asked for an epidural, but was told it would be an extra hour before I could get one because the anesthesiologist on call was in surgery. That hour was definitely the most pain I’ve experienced. Poor David had nail marks all over his arm to prove it. When the epidural finally came, it was such a relief (seriously, thank God for drugs). The nurse checked me shortly afterwards, and told me the happy news that I was fully dilated. She had me rest for an hour, and then we started pushing.

momo1Pushing lasted two hours. As we neared the end of the second hour, my contractions started weakening and I was exhausted. The nurses decided to give me a shot of Picotin to help things along — and 12 minutes later, at 12:47am on Sunday, September 13th, little Marcus burst into the world. Hearing him scream a few moments later was one of the most relieving and beautiful sounds I’ve heard. It’s been a fascinating, sometimes frustrating, exciting, exhausting, and extraordinary month getting to know our little man. We thank God that he’s healthy and generally good-natured (except when he’s hungry) and has a ton of people around him who love him. It is also a blessing having family near and far come help; otherwise I’d be a total zombie surviving on instant noodles and coffee.

chococake2Anyways, back to that chocolate cake — my mom finished baking it, but we were too late to make it into a goodbye cake for our friend. So, when we got home from the hospital, we made some buttercream and transformed it into a “Welcome Marcus” cake. I sure hope Marcus becomes a chocolate lover, because like it or not I’m probably going to make this chocolate-raspberry cake every year around his birthday just for kicks. The recipe is adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, my Christmas present to myself last year. My main change was to make the buttercream with all dark chocolate instead of a mixture of milk and dark. I think it’s the perfect amount of sweetness paired with the raspberry sauce. (This is 2/3 of the original recipe, which was just enough to lightly frost the entire cake.) We also only made half the amount of raspberry sauce, but next time I’ll make the full amount because I wish I’d had more to slather on when serving — it’s soooooo good.

Marcus’ Chocolate-Raspberry Cake

Makes 1 4-layer, 8-inch cake | Adapted from The Cake Bible

Cake Ingredients:

  • 85 g / 3/4 c + 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed)
  • 1 1/2 c boiling water
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla
  • 300 grams / 3 c sifted cake flour
  • 434 g / 2 c firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 227 g / 1 c unsalted butter, softened
  • Handful of fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Grease and line two 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper, then grease again and flour. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
  3. In another bowl lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture, and vanilla.
  4. In a large mixing bowl combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.
  6. Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting reinvert so that tops are up and cool completely. (Layers can be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for a couple of days, or frozen until needed.)

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Ingredients:

  • 454 g / 1 lb good quality dark chocolate
  • 227 g / 1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened

Method:

  1. Break the chocolate into squares and melt in a double boiler or in the microwave (stirred every 15 seconds). Stir until smooth, and cool until no longer warm to the touch.
  2. In a bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixture at medium speed and beat in the cooled chocolate until uniform in color.

Raspberry Sauce Ingredients:

  • 680 g / 24 ounces frozen unsweetened raspberries
  • 2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 132 g / 2/3 c sugar, optional

Method:

  1. In a strainer suspended over a deep bowl thaw the raspberries completely. This will take several hours. Press the berries to force out all the juice. There should be 1 cup.
  2. In a saucepan boil the juice until reduced to 1/4 c. Pour into a lightly oiled heatproof cup.
  3. Puree the raspberries and use a find strainer to remove all the seeds. You should have 1 liquid cup puree. Stir in the raspberry syrup and lemon juice. To make a lightly sweetened sauce, measure again. There should be 1 1/3 liquid cups. If you have less, add less sugar. The correct amount of sugar is 1/2 the volume of the puree. (To 1 cup puree, add 1/2 c sugar.) Stir until sugar dissolves.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Level and divide each cake into 2 layers (for 4 layers total). Spread a thin layer of buttercream between each layer, followed by a layer of raspberry puree.
  2. Frost the entire cake with remaining buttercream. Garnish with fresh raspberries if desired, and serve with remaining raspberry sauce.

Fruit Crumb Bars

peachesOne of my favorite parts of summer is the bounty of fresh fruit. It’s so refreshing to have delicious and CHEAP berries and stone fruits readily available for snacking and baking.

We’ve gone fruit picking twice this summer: the first time for raspberries, and second for peaches. We went down to the Niagara region for our peaches, and managed to snag a respectable 7 pounds of peaches in the midst of a on-again-off-again thunderstorm.

Our raspberries were consumed pretty quickly, but we had a bounty of quickly ripening peaches that needed to be cooked, stat. So we made this peach and cherry bourbon pie.

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(Note: David helped me assemble this lattice. It’s definitely the most fancy decorative top I’ve attempted, and came after several much uglier and easier lattice tops. If this failed, my backup plan was to go for the “abstract stripe” look.)

crumbbarsAnyways, I had some leftover filling from the pie, so I decided to try out this recipe for crumb bars. The original recipe calls for blueberries (which I imagine would be delicious), but peaches and cherries were what I had. And they’re delicious here — as would be raspberries, nectarines, strawberry and rhubarb, etc. You just might need to slightly adjust the amount of sugar and cornstarch for the fruit portion depending on how sweet and juicy your fruits are (I used the upper end of the cornstarch and drained my very juicy peaches and cherries as well as I could).

Anyhow, the beauty of this recipe, besides its flexibility in the fruit department, is how simple it is to whip up. I love making pies and crumbles and cakes, but sometimes you just want to make something that doesn’t involve rolling pins, fussy eggbeating, or floured surfaces. This is that kind of recipe.

Fruit Crumb Bars

Makes one 9″ x 13″ pan

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup (300 g) white sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups (375 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces), cut into pieces
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 4 cups fresh fruit, peeled and diced if needed (I used a mixture of peaches and cherries; any kind of berry would work well too)
  • 1-2 Tbsp cornstarch

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.
  3. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the fruit. Sprinkle the fuit mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the fruit layer.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 45-55 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Strawberry Yogurt Bread

strawberrybreadLately I’ve been working a lot of early morning shifts, so I wanted to make something I could easily pack for breakfast. Bonus points for something that could be created from the contents of our fridge (and pantry). My default is our House Banana Bread, but I didn’t have any bananas and thought it would be fun to make something seasonal. BTW, I’m so excited for berry season! (One of the best parts of summer, IMO.)

The result was this Strawberry Yogurt Bread. Since this was envisioned as a breakfast bread, my goal was for something not too sweet and reasonably healthy (minimal oil/butter, some whole grains). I’m quite happy with how this turned out, and three days later it’s almost finished…so that’s that! Next time, I might try walnuts or pecans in place of the nuts, or swapping out the strawberries for blueberries or whatever berry is lurking in the fridge. We had a partial tub of sour cream in the fridge, so that got added in — but if you don’t have that lying around, I think you could easily add another 1/4 cup of oil or replace with more yogurt. Yay flexible recipes!

Strawberry Yogurt Bread

Makes 1 9×5 loaf

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c plain Greek yogurt (I used fat free)
  • 1/4 c sour cream
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 c all purpose flour
  • 2/3 c whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 c strawberries, chopped
  • 1 handful sliced almonds

Topping:

  • 1 Tbsp. Turbinado Sugar
  • 1 strawberry, sliced

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • In a medium bowl, mix yogurt, sour cream, oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until blended.
  • In a separate bowl add flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix together.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and slowly incorporate the yogurt mixture, being careful not to overmix.
  • Fold in strawberries and almonds.
  • Spoon batter into a greased and floured 9×5-inch loaf pan. The batter will be thick.
  • Arrange sliced strawberry on top, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  • Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack.