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.

New York Style Bagels

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A few years ago, I got into a bread baking kick where I wanted to bake ALL THE BREADS. There’s something therapeutic about kneading dough and watching very basic ingredients transform into loaves of deliciousness. (Needless to say, I could never be gluten-free.) Although most bread recipes take quite a bit of time (this one included), a lot of that is simply waiting. And waiting is probably the hardest part!

I love making individual-sized breads and rolls, so bagels have been on my to-bake list for awhile. I’m happy to report they were a resounding success — my husband says they were the best bagels he’s ever tasted! Crisp exterior with just the right amount of salt and a wonderful chew — perfect with a schmear of cream cheese. The original recipe for these New York style bagels is from one of my favorite bread experts: Peter Reinhart. His Bread Baker’s Apprentice is one of my favorite cookbooks and showed me it was possible to good bread in a home oven. While there is a recipe for bagels in BBA, I chose to use a version from Epicurious because it made a smaller batch and the process was a little streamlined.

As with all Peter Reinhart recipes, there are a lot of detailed instructions; and you’ll definitely want to read the recipe through to the end a couple times to get a feel for the process. However, it really isn’t too difficult — if you’ve made soft pretzels before, you’ll find bagel-making very similar.

Notes:

  • I’ve edited the recipe to reflect the methods and timeline I used. Consult the original for other options.
  • The original recipe in BBA suggests high gluten flour as ideal for bagels. I couldn’t find it easily so I just used bread flour. The bagels were satisfyingly chewy, though I do want to try high gluten sometime.
  • The original recipe says the yield is 6-8 bagels. I like mine smaller so I made 12, and they were still pretty good-sized.
  • The original doesn’t call for an egg wash, but after reading comments online I decided to use one to ensure the toppings would stick well.

New York Style Bagels

Adapted from Peter Reinhart via Epicurious | Makes 6 large or 12 small bagels

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 tablespoon (0.75 oz / 21 g) barley malt syrup, honey, or rice syrup, or 1 teaspoon (0.25 oz / 7 g) diastatic malt powder
  • 1 teaspoon (0.11 oz / 3 g) instant yeast (Note: I used a heaping tsp of active dry, and it worked fine)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (0.37 oz / 10.5 g) salt, or 2 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (9 oz / 255 g) lukewarm water (about 95°F or 35°C)
  • 3 1/2 cups (16 oz / 454 g) unbleached bread flour

Poaching liquid

  • 2 to 3 quarts (64 to 96 oz / 181 to 272 g) water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (1 oz / 28.5 g) barley malt syrup or honey (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz / 14 g) baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (0.25 oz / 7 g) salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt

Garnish

  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Any mixture of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried onion flakes, dried garlic flakes, and coarse salt

Preparation

Do ahead

  1. To make the dough, stir the malt syrup, yeast, and salt into the lukewarm water. Place the flour into a mixing bowl and pour in the malt syrup mixture. If using a mixer, use the dough hook and mix on the lowest speed for 3 minutes. If mixing by hand, use a large, sturdy spoon and stir for about 3 minutes, until well blended. The dough should form a stiff, coarse ball, and the flour should be fully hydrated; if it isn’t, stir in a little more water. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
  2. Resume mixing with the dough hook on the lowest speed for another 3 minutes or transfer to a very lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 3 minutes to smooth out the dough and develop the gluten. The dough should be stiff yet supple, with a satiny, barely tacky feel. If the dough seems too soft or overly tacky, mix or knead in a little more flour.
  3. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.

Baking Day

  1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 60 to 90 minutes before you plan to bake the bagels. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with parchment paper or a silicone mat, then misting it with spray oil. Divide the dough into 6 to 12 equal pieces. (A typical bagel is about 4 ounces or 113 grams before baking, but you can make them smaller [I made 12]. If you make more than 6 bagels, you may need to prepare 2 sheet pans.) Form each piece into a loose ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand. (Don’t use any flour on the work surface. If the dough slides around and won’t ball up, wipe the surface with a damp paper towel and try again; the slight bit of moisture will provide enough traction for the dough to form into a ball.)
  2. Use both hands (and a fair amount of pressure) to roll the ball into a rope about 8 inches long on a clean, dry work surface. (Again, wipe the surface with a damp towel, if necessary, to create sufficient friction on the work surface.) Taper the rope slightly at each end and moisten the last inch or so of the ends. Place one end of the dough in the palm of your hand and wrap the rope around your hand to complete the circle, going between your thumb and forefinger and then all the way around. The ends should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together by closing your hand, then press the seam into the work surface, rolling it back and forth a few times to seal. Remove the dough from your hand, squeezing it to even out the thickness if need be and creating a hole of about 2 inches in diameter.
  3. After 1 hour, check whether the bagels are ready for baking using the “float test”: Place one of the bagels in a small bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn’t float back to the surface, shake it off, return it to the pan, and wait for another 15 to 20 minutes, then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they’re all ready to be boiled. If they pass the float test before you are ready to boil and bake them, return them to the refrigerator so they don’t overproof. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C) and gather and prepare your garnishes (egg wash, seeds, onions, garlic, and so on).
  4. To make the poaching liquid, fill a pot with 2 to 3 quarts of water, making sure the water is at least 4 inches deep. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain at a simmer. Stir in the malt syrup, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Gently lower each bagel into the simmering poaching liquid, adding as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. They should all float to the surface within 15 seconds. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to turn each bagel over. Poach for another 30 to 60 seconds, then use the slotted spoon to transfer it back to the pan, domed side up. (It’s important that the parchment paper be lightly oiled, or the paper will glue itself to the dough as the bagels bake.) Brush the top with the egg wash and sprinkle on a generous amount of whatever toppings you like as soon as the bagels come out of the water.
  6. Transfer the pan of bagels to the oven, then lower the oven heat to 450°F (232°C).
  7. Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and check the underside of the bagels. If they’re getting too dark, place another pan under the baking sheet. (Doubling the pan will insulate the first baking sheet.) Bake for another 8 to 12 minutes, until the bagels are a golden brown.
  8. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving.

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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Spiked Eggnog Bundt Cake

eggnogcakeDo you have any quirky holiday food traditions? Mine has to do with eggnog. Every year, someone in my family buys a carton of it because there are a few of us (including me) who like the taste. But I can only handle a taste of the taste. Like one sip. I love the flavors, but eggnog on its own is just so…noggy. It’s a little too thick for comfort. (Also I’m lactose intolerant, haha.) Anyways, there usually ends up being half a carton leftover that no one wants to drink.

As I was guiltily noticing this year’s half-drunk nog bottle for the 10th time, I thought I should find a recipe that would take care of neglected nog. I settled on a bundt cake because they are so easy to throw together; and the pretty shape means you don’t have to worry about frosting or other time-consuming food styling that no one has time for during the busy Christmas season.

This recipe is based on Hummingbird High’s Kentucky Bourbon Cake, a deliciously moist and easy bundt I’d made in the past. I basically just subbed out eggnog for the buttermilk and rum for the bourbon, and scaled back the sugar and eggs slightly to account for the nog, and added a couple pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg. For the glaze, I used a recipe for a coffee-whiskey one from The Kitchn. If you don’t want to use alcohol, you could probably replace with all eggnog / coffee, but I thought these flavors complemented each other nicely and the booziness wasn’t overpowering.

Merry Christmas!

Spiked Eggnog Bundt Cake

Makes one 10-inch cake, enough for 10-12 servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 300 grams / 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Generous grating of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 228 grams / 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 275 grams / 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 100 grams / 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature (I used extra large)
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1 cup eggnog, at room temperature

For the coffee-bourbon glaze:

  • 28 grams / 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 50 grams / 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup strongly brewed coffee
  • 2 tbsp bourbon

Method:

  1. Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350 (F).
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients in a bowl, then whisk the mixture by hand to ensure that all ingredients are well mixed. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together 1/4 cup rum and 1 cup eggnog together in a liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  5. Turn down the mixer to its lowest speed and add 3 eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next one.
  6. With the mixer still on its lowest speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the rum/eggnog mixture in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape the bowl. Stop the mixer before the last of the flour has been incorporated and complete the blending by hand with a rubber spatula.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use a rubber spatula to spread it out evenly. Place the pan into the preheated oven and bake until the cake is golden and springs back when touched and a tester comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes.
  8. When the cake is ready, remove from oven and let rest on a cooling rack. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, while you make the glaze.
  9. Place all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.
  10. After the cake has cooled for about 10 minutes in the pan, poke the exposed surface of the cake with a skewer. Brush about half the glaze over the surface. Loosen the edges of the cake from the pan with a butter knife and turn the cake out onto a plate.
  11. Poke holes all over the surface of the top of the cake. Brush glaze over the cake, soaking as much in the holes as possible. (You will likely have glaze left over.) Let cake cool completely.

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.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

cobblerOne of my favorite parts of spring is the opening of local farmer’s markets. We have two near our house, one of which started up a couple weeks ago. Last week rhubarb was for sale, and I bought some not quite knowing what I’d do with it. After perusing our fridge contents — part of a tub of sour cream, strawberries, butter, half a lemon — I settled on a cobbler with a sour cream biscuit topping. It was a lovely sweet-tart spring dessert, perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Serves 6-8

Topping Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces (I like to cut butter into pieces and freeze for about 1/2 an hour before making dough)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sour cream

Filling Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds, untrimmed) rhubarb, in 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 3 1/2 cups (about 1 pound) strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca

Method

Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter; using your fingertips, incorporate until only pea-size lumps remain. Gently mix in sour cream. Knead in bowl until a biscuit-like dough forms, 5-7 turns (do not overmix).

Stir together filling ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into an 9-inch pie dish or divide among six 6-ounce ramekins. Tear biscuit topping into quarter-size crumbles; scatter over fruit.

Bake cobbler until juices are thick and bubbling and topping is cooked through and deep golden brown, 20-25 minutes for ramekins or 45-50 minutes for pie dish. Let cool for at least 1 hour.

House Banana Bread

bananaConfession: I don’t like plain bananas. I don’t like the mealy texture in my mouth, especially when they’re overripe. But I don’t mind the taste of bananas, so I’m happy to indulge in smoothies containing bananas, banana “ice cream” (basically, a frozen banana pureed til it tastes like ice cream), and — of course — banana bread.

My mom’s banana bread was a family favorite, and I thought her recipe would be the one I would end up using in my own home. While I still intend on making her version someday, I’ve found a new House Banana Bread that has quickly become a favorite for our little family. I like that it’s reasonably healthy (no trans-fats and some whole grains), not overly sweet, and adaptable depending on what you’ve got available in your kitchen. Examples of previous adaptations:

  • Dropped the oil to 1/4 c and added a couple spoonfuls of sour cream
  • Added a splash of bourbon
  • Made one batch vegan by simply replacing the egg with another ripe banana. (It worked beautifully — even non-vegan friends gobbled it up!)

An added bonus: everything is mixed in one bowl, and there’s no hand mixer (i.e. extra dishes to clean) needed!

House Banana Bread

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen | Makes one 9×5″ loaf

  • 3 large ripe-to-over-ripe bananas
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
  • 1/3 cup (65 grams) light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves or all spice
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) white whole-wheat flour (I usually use half all purpose, half whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) uncooked millet

Method:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In the bottom of a large bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until virtually smooth but a few tiny lumps remain. Whisk in egg, then oil, brown sugar, syrup and vanilla extract. Sprinkle baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves over mixture and stir until combined. Sift in flour and stir until just combined, then stir in millet.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool loaf in pan on rack.

Pad Thai

padthaiEarlier this week, I had a hankering for Pad Thai. It’s one of those dishes I’ll occasionally order out, but had never bothered to try making myself. My method for attempting new dishes usually consists of reading at least a half dozen recipes, noting the ingredient and method similarities, and then adapting to personal taste and what is in the fridge. For example: pad thai typically contains firm tofu (which I love), but I had a smidgen of ground pork that had to be cooked. So that went in. I also had a bunch of mint and cilantro from some other dinners we’d eaten earlier in the week, so that got added. Finally, I am a firm believer in pre-seasoning proteins (in this case, shrimp and pork), so that step was added as well.

One ingredient I didn’t substitute was the tamarind (some recipes call for lime juice, but I don’t think it’s an adequate substitute). I’ve never worked with tamarind before, and the only tamarind the local Asian market had was the whole pods. I used the instructions here to turn it into a pulp. It was a fairly messy process, but the flavor was definitely worth it.

Pad Thai

Adapted from Saveur | Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. dried flat rice stick noodles
  • 3 tbsp. tamarind pulp
  • 3 tbsp. palm sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2.5 tbsp. nam pla (Thai fish sauce), divided
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Thai chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tsp soy sauce, divided
  • 2 tsp sugar, divided
  • White pepper
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 8 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3 oz. ground pork
  • 2 tbsp. dried shrimp, soaked and chopped if large
  • 6 stalks Chinese chives or 4 scallions, green part only,cut into 2″ pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
  • 1 lime, quartered
  • 1/4 c mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 c cilantro, chopped
  • Sriracha

Method

  1. At least 1 hour before cooking, marinate shrimp with 1/2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, and a pinch of white pepper. Marinate ground pork with 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, and a pinch of white pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. Dissolve tamarind pulp in 1 cup hot water in a small bowl, then strain through a sieve into a medium bowl, pressing on pulp with the back of a spoon to push most of it through. Discard seeds. Stir sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, and chili garlic sauce into tamarind liquid and set sauce aside.
  3. Soak noodles in a large bowl of hot water until pliable, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Cook shrimp until pink but not completely cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove and set aside.
  5. Add remaining 3 tbsp oil to hot skillet. Add onion and garlic and stir-fry until soft, about 10 seconds. Add ground pork and saute until mostly cooked, about 1 minute. Move ingredients over to the one side of the pot and add the lightly beaten eggs. allowing to set slightly and then stirring to scramble. When eggs are about halfway cooked, add dried shrimp, chives, half the bean sprouts, half the peanuts, the noodles, the sliced omelette, and the reserved sauce and stir-fry, tossing constantly, until noodles absorb most of the sauce and sauce thickens, 2-3 minutes. Garnish each serving with the remaining bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, and peanuts and serve with limes and sriracha.