Almond Poppyseed Loaf

Let me be upfront here. Yes, I am a pastry chef. So, yes, I do spend my days melting chocolate, baking off cookies, crafting desserts, and producing sweet sauces; but I am not always baking and making sweets at home. Although, if you do look at my last few blog posts it may seem as though that is all I have been doing. Bananas Foster, Grapefruit Bunt Cake, Calas … Trust me there have been lots of savory natured things in between all of these. Yet, once again this post is of the sweet persuasion; but not tooth achingly sweet. This is just the right amount of sugary - almond - cake - loaf goodness. An Almond Poppyseed Loaf, to be exact. I was inspired to make this because of our most recent trip to New Jersey. While we were there I had this huge craving for a poppyseed cake. It is a very eastern european item and while growing up in Garfield, N.J. there were two different Polish bakeries we frequented that made them. The bakery version is more like a very sweet bread-like item that beholds a very moist poppy seed / almond flavored filling. One of the bakeries made it in a swirl, and the other made it like a stuffed loaf. I always loved it, and I can recall many evenings as a child sitting with my family snacking on this cake with tea while the adults talked.

Almond Poppyseed Loaf
Almond Poppyseed Loaf

When I was last in New Jersey I went to four different bakeries in search of a Poppyseed Cake. The first bakery was closed! The next bakery said they didn’t make any that day. The bakery after that one was closed too! (It was a Monday.) So I went into the Polish market around the corner from my parents home…no luck there either! I even wandered the isles looking for some sort of poppy seed / almond flavored like ingredients. My thought was if I could get my hands on anything like the filling I could attempt to make it on my own. I could not find any, just walked out of there with some kielbasa for my father-in-law and a beet salad for my husband and I to share. As we walked out I walked next door to a tiny bakery with only two cases. And there it was! Happily I purchased the cake and took it to my in-law’s home to share.

Low and behold this cake was a big disappointment! It was dense, had bits of candied citrus in it, and it possessed a very dry texture. It was totally missing the light and airy sweet bread with that moist gush of poppyseed and almond goodness. I nearly teared when I ate my slice. I was leaving the following day, there would be no poppyseed cake until my next visit back - but only if I am luckier than I was on this trip! While I was back home in Seattle I kept thinking about the flavors of that cake. I have to do a bit of research still on a recipe to master anything like the cake of my memory, but in the present I will have to settle on the Almond Poppyseed Loaf I created. The flavor profile hit very close to home, and the loaf had the loveliest texture and chew to it. I will admit I had two slices and another one the next day. I am grateful that Brian brought the remainder of this loaf in for his coworkers to try or I could have easily sat down and finished it while watching a Netflix marathon of any kind! I will report back in the future on a Poppyseed Cake, in the meantime this Almond Poppyseed Loaf will behold my heart.

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Almond Poppyseed Loaf (Makes one 8 inch loaf)

8 oz butter, cut into small cubes, plus extra for greasing your pan

3 large eggs plus 3 large yolks

2 tsp Vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup flour, plus extra for flouring pan

1/2  tsp sea salt

2 tbsp poppyseed

1 1/4 cup sugar

7 oz almond paste, broken up into chunks

1/4-1/3 cup sliced almonds, optional

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease you loaf pan well and line it with parchment paper (I like to lay a long enough sheet of parchment paper into the pan so it covers the bottom of the pan, the sides, and has a bit of an overhang. This will help you lift the loaf out of the pan easily once it is cooled.) Flour the sides of the pan that is exposed.

Next, in the base of a food processor place your sugar and your almond paste and pulse until the almond paste is broken down and evenly distributed amongst the sugar.You want to be sure the almond paste is no longer in clumps, and as finely broken down as the sugar is. Also in a bowl whisk together your flour, sea salt, and poppyseed.

Then, in the bowl of a mixer place your butter along with your almond sugar mixture. Mix this until it is well combined and fluffy. Add the eggs and the yolk one at a time. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while doing so. Once it is mixed cohesively and smooth, gently stir in the flour mixture. Mix until it is blended - but no further.

Finally, pour the batter into your prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top if using. Place on a sheet tray and then place in the center of your oven. Bake about an hour, rotating it half way though. Be sure to test the cake after an hour. This is a very rich and dense loaf, so you want to be sure that a tooth pick comes out clean once it is inserted for testing. Mine baked for about an hour and fifteen minutes, but it can vary from oven to oven. Remove from oven and let cool an hour before removing it from the pan. Slice and serve once cool but at room temperature. (Will store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to four days.)

Grapefruit Bundt Cake with Star Anise Glaze

IMG_0696 The last couple of weeks Brian and I have been fighting a cold. Brian came home from a business trip feeling “head cold-ish’. He was feeling on the mend when we headed out to New Jersey for a quick trip to visit with our families. On our last full day there I felt something was coming on myself. No fun!!! By the time we were back in Seattle I was in full combat with this head cold ugliness. Once I was all better, Brian received round two! Napping, cold meds, hot lemon and honey water, cough drops, and sniffles. In two weeks we have been home we have been trying our best to not be cranky, but the influx of this illness has put us to the test.

The plus side, we got to spend a short but fun visit with our loved ones on the east coast. Lots of laughs and giggles were had. We spent an afternoon in Manhattan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, got to see a dusting of snow, and ate a lot. We had some good New York pizza, feasted at a Polish restaurant, and my mom made my favorite dish of her's - lentil soup. It was an overall amusing trip. The colds we acquired though equaled to no fun.

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Due to the “ick” we've been experiencing we have overloaded ourselves with vitamin C. Naval oranges, pink grapefruits, meyer lemons, limes, blood oranges; you name it we have been ingesting it. Citrus in salads, citrus with roasted veggies, citrus in quinoa, citrus with soup…I think you get the feeling of where we were going. When I looked at the grapefruits instead of eating it whole I thought - Cake! After all, we have been so good. We were eating healthy and now almost fully rid of this yuckiness - we deserved a treat.

I made a bundt cake with lots of grapefruit zest in the batter. I made a syrup out of the juice from the grapefruit and gently spooned it over the freshly baked cake while still warm from the oven. Once the cake was cooled I pooped it out of the pan and drizzled it with a star anise spiced glaze. We enjoyed it with extra sliced citrus and mugs of tea. It was moist and slightly sweet, not to mention it paired well with the tea. Eating all that citrus to combat our colds was tasty, but I think in the cake form it is best. I just wish there was more, we shared it and disappeared fast!

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Grapefruit Bundt Cake with Star Anise Glaze (Makes one 9 inch round cake)

Cake

8 oz butter, softened (plus extra for pan)

2 1/2 cups sugar

6 eggs

1 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup yogurt

1/3 cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)

2 tbsp grapefruit zest

Syrup

1/4 cup grapefruit juice (freshly squeezed)

3/4 cup sugar

Glaze

*Note: If you are not a fan of Star Anise you do not have to use it. You can simply replace it with vanilla extract to keep the glaze more simple.

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tsp ground star anise

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your pan generously. In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In a small bowl stir together your grapefruit juice and zest and set aside as well.

Next, in a large bowl mix your butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl in-between each egg; mixing until completely blended. Add in your vanilla and stir it together until combined. In two parts alternate adding the flour and then the yogurt.

Then, once all is combined stir in your  juice and zest mixture. When your batter seems evenly mixed pour it into your prepared pan and place in the center of the oven. Bake about and hour, rotating it half way though. Test it with a tooth pick to check the doneness of the cake. when toothpick is removed form the cake cleanly you should remove it from the oven.

Meanwhile, you should begin to make your syrup. Place the juice and the sugar in a small pan and bring to a simmer. You want to stir it continuously until the sugar  is dissolved. Promptly remove the pot from the heat, and with a sharp knife poke several wholes around the top of the cake. Generously spoon the syrup over the cake letting it seep into it. Place the cake (in the pan) in a spot to cool completely. At lest a hour.

Finally, you can make your glaze for the cake. In a bowl whisk together your powdered sugar, star anise, and water. Whisk it until smooth. Gently remove the cake from the pan. I used an offset spatula to carefully loosen the cake from the sides of the pan (you might need a firm hand in doing this as the syrup may have made the cake stick to the pan just a bit). I inserted the spatula along the side of the cake and gently nudged the cake away from the pan, then you flip the cake over onto a wire cooling rack over a sheet pan. Easily pour or spoon the glaze over the cake little by little. Let it drip on down the sides and become set onto the cake. Let the glaze set about 15 minutes before serving.

Cake will keep about 3 - 4 days if wrapped in plastic. Cake can be refrigerated, but let the cake come to room temperature before eating for best texture and flavor.

 

Fruity Pebble Cake Fascination

A couple of moths ago a coworker showed me a cake she was thinking of making for her son’s birthday. It was a colorfully speckled cake similar to that of a confetti cake but the intriguing thing about this cake was that the “confetti” was actually Fruity Pebbles! it was three layers of a vanilla fruity confetti cake with vanilla buttercream enrobing it all together. The sides of the cake were coated with more Fruity Pebbles adorning the cake like sprinkles. The cake was cute, looked like it oozed fun, even though you could tell it was sugary - but it was the kind of sugary goodness you know children dream about. I walked her through the recipe and she was excited to make it. Fruity Pebble Cake cake getting adorned with sugary cereal goodness.

Unfortunately, her son came down with a bad cold before his birthday and she never ended up making the cake. Shortly afterward, while walking the grocery store, I noticed I was on the cereal isle. Out of curiosity I looked for Fruity Pebbles, but there were none! Let me admit that my curiosity was piqued because I was never allowed to have sugary cereals growing up. I started to wonder: What do Fruity Pebbled taste like? Then a few weeks later I was in Rite Aid to get allergy meds when I noticed they had a cereal isle. I walked down the isle and there it was! Boxes of Fruity Pebbles, they do exist!!! I purchased the box and hurried home. I couldn’t wait! I was going to make this cake and bring it in as a surprise for the staff.

A quick look at the "fruity confetti"  cake layers.

Now those of you who know me I am sure are wondering: Why was I so excited about this cake and buying this cereal? I mean it is extremely colorful in an artificial way, the so called “fruity” flavoring was fruity in a nondescript fruit way, and it is more sugar in one intake for a breakfast item then I care to think about. But, I felt there was something extremely reminiscent of reliving childhood when I saw this cake. This cake looked like fun. It reminded me of running around playing musical chairs, wearing fun paper hats, and getting goodie bags with all of your friends - you know the average stuff we use to do when we were 7 years old. I needed to be a kid again, at least just for this one time.

I will admit to snacking on a few Fruity Pebbles as I placed finishing touches on the cake.

So I spent one evening baking the cake, and then in the next evening decorating it. It was fun I will admit. It was quite easy too. I boxed up the finished cake and headed into work with it in the morning. Three separate people stopped me on the walk to work at 5:30 AM to ask about the cake. Once I got to work I placed the cake on my co-workers station, by the time everyone else rolled in they were all asking about the cake. It’s funny really, it is like they all turned in to children again with cake and sugar their mind. Once they heard it was made with cereal they were even more fascinated. Once the co-work who started this Fruity Pebble Cake Fascination got in she started to laugh! We all took pictures and feasted on sugary cereal cakey goodness with our tea or coffee. It may not be something I will want to eat again; although, it was fun to experience the enthusiasm and giddiness over this cake with my coworkers. Sometimes you just need to feel like a kid again.

My first and last slice of Fruity Pebble Cake! It was fun to be a kid for a moment.

Fruity Pebble Confeti Cake (makes one 8 inch round, three layer cake)

***This recipe is from the blog Butter Lust. You can link directly to the blog from here! The following directions are from that recipe. Although, I do not own three 8 inch pans, so I baked it on 8 inch pan for about an hour at 325 degrees. Then sliced it into three layers for icing.

CAKE

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/4 cups sugar

6 large egg whites, at room temperature

2 tablespoons clear imitation vanilla

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 3/4 cups cake flour (see headnote)

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature

3 cups Fruity Pebbles cereal

BUTTERCREAM

2 cups (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon clear imitation vanilla

3 tablespoons milk or cream

4 cups powdered sugar

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease and line 3 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg whites one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add the oil and vanilla and mix until well combined.

Next; in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. With your mixer on low, add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the milk (you should start and end with the dry ingredients). Mix until batter is just combined and smooth - don't over mix.

Then, fold in the Fruity Pebbles cereal then divide the batter between the three greased cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out into a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting. (I like to chill the cake overnight and ice the following day.)

The next day, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip butter on medium-high for about 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar, mix on low until incorporated, then turn the mixer up to high and beat for about 2 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla, mix on low again until incorporated, then turn mixer to high and beat for 4-5 minutes or until frosting is very fluffy.

Once the icing is made, If desired, level your cakes to remove domed tops and create a more even, professional-looking cake. Place one layer of cake on a cardboard round or flat serving surface and top with about 1/2 cup of buttercream. Top with another layer off cake then add another layer of frosting. Top off with the last layer of cake.

After, once all your layers are stacked, frost the cake with a very thin crumb coat layer of icing (this will help achieve a smooth finish) and refrigerate until icing is set (about 10 minutes).

Finally, use the remaining icing to frost the outside of the cake. To coat the sides with Fruity Pebbles, take a handful of cereal and gently press into the side of the cake. Repeat until completely covered. Note that this is a messy process, but the end result sure is pretty!

Sticky Toffee Date Cake

About two years ago Brian and I traveled to London for a week. We toured museums, gazed at some awesome art, strolled though the city, saw lots of fantastic architecture, and indulged in many fantastic food items. We ate a variety of different ethnic foods within the first couple of days when I noticed that we are in London and have not had any traditional British food. So I asked the front dest at our hotel - Where do I find a good British meal? They responded with an answer that was so obvious I felt a little dumb - At any pub you will find a great traditional British meal! So I started surveying the menus of all the pubs we came across. The menus were all pretty much the same. That was until we were walking though Notting Hill and stumbled upon a pretty large, yet quaint pub. We looked over the menu and get this…there was even vegetarian options! We sat down, had ourselves a pint each and dinned on some wonderful British food. The waitress told us that they had a great StickyToffee Pudding for dessert. You did not need to tell me twice about that. We ordered it to split, and when it came it was warm and wonderful. We scooped away at this moist and delicious toffee pudding. I don’t think we even really said anything to one another, just grinned and mumered - MMMMMMMM! But this dessert was not really a pudding. It was more like a cake that was baked into a ramekin that had a toffee sauce poured over top of it that was absorbed by the cake. Cake or pudding, either way, it was great.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake - Ready to serve!

Two years later I am still thinking about that dessert so much so that I am writing about it now. I needed to make it to see if I could get anything close to it in flavor and texture. I researched recipes and finally came up with something that I thought might just work. I made it and surprised Brian when he came home from work. He was just as thrilled as I was and after eating it (and going back for seconds) we both agreed that it might possibly be better than the one we had in London. I needed a second opinion. Brian wrapped up a few of the others and brought them into some of his coworkers to enjoy. They all thanked us and exclaimed it was terrific! Maybe this recipe I worked on was perfect?!? So this past week when my cousin Judy’s husband was here on business I made it again. I figured it was a perfect dessert for him since he previously lived in London for awhile. If anyone, he would give me an honest opinion. As he ate it he exclaimed that he loved it. He even told me it was better than the ones he tried while living or traveling in England. I was so pleased. I just might have the perfect recipe on my hands!

Date Cakes cooling, right out of the oven.

So of course I needed to share it with you here. That and I packed up two of these little cakes for Judy, I knew her husband would fly home with them safely. The following day I received and email from her asking for the recipe…I guess she was won over by it too!

In the research I did about this dessert I found out that if you roll the cake in the toffee sauce (as opposed to just pouring it over the top)  your end result will be more moist. I also increased the amount of dates (yes, dates are in this dessert) to impart a more rich yet delicate flavor to the dessert besides giving the cake a more velvety feel. This cake is quite simple to make, takes almost no time to bake and making the sauce is strait forward enough that the most difficult thing about this recipe is waiting for it to cool before finishing it all off. I did restrain myself, but that just meant there were more for me to enjoy the next day. I think this is a must try for anyone; anyone who enjoys something sweet and moist with toffee sauce to go along with it. But that is no one but me I am sure!?!

Sticky Toffee Date Cake, ready to be eaten.

Sticky Toffee Date Cake (Makes about 14 - 16 servings)

**AKA Sticky Toffee Pudding

CAKE

2 cups fresh dates (pitted)

1 cup boiling water

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 scant cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

12 oz butter, plus more for greasing

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 tbsp molasses

2/3 cup milk

First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 14 - 16  molds (be it cup cake pan, ramekins, or silicone molds). Chop the dates by hand until you have a fine chop, or place the dates in the bowl of a food processor and pulse it until your dates are chopped quite finely. Place the chopped dates in a bowl and over it pour the boiling water. Let it sit and rest so that the dates plump up and soften.

Next, in a bowl place your butter and your brown sugar. Mix it together until it is light and fluffy, Add in your eggs, one at a time until they are evenly combined and your mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and the molasses and mix until well combined.

Then, in a bowl place your flour along with your baking soda and baking powder. Whisk it together and add half of it too your butter mixture. Mix it until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Follow with half of your milk and stir it in well. Repeat this and again make sure all is completely mixed together and smooth.

Meanwhile, strain off any of the excess water that may be in your dates, without pressing on them as you do so (you want the dates to stay as plump as possible). Gently stir the dates into your batter. It may look a bit uneven, but that is fine; it is just because they are so moist.

Finally, pour or scoop the batter into your pan / molds / ramekins until they are 1/3 full. Place them in the center of your oven and bake about 20 - 25 minutes, until they are firm and set to the touch. Let cool slightly before finishing with the sauce. (Directions and recipe below.)

TOFFEE SAUCE

2 cups dark brown sugar

4 oz butter, cut into small chunks

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp molasses

First, place a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. In the pan place your butter and dark brown sugar stirring until your sugar is dissolved as the butter has melted.

Next, add the vanilla and molasses to your cream. Slowly add the mixture to your pan stirring it constantly. You are looking for the brown sugar mixture to smooth out. You can let it simmer just a bit, but not too much as you do not want to end up with a thick sauce. Just heat through snd simmer until mixture is nice and smooth.

Then, remove the sauce from the heat and remove your cakes from what you baked them in (they should be cooled by now). Gently dip, or roll the individual cakes in the sauce. and place them on a plate or platter. Poor the remainder of the sauce over the top of the cakes.

Finally, cakes are ready to serve as it. If you will not be serving them for a day or two it is best to cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. It is best to remove from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature at east two hours before serving. When served be sure to scoop up the toffee sauce along with your cake.

Moist Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing

One of the huge advantages of living and working in Seattle is that you have a vast array of vendors at your fingertips over at Pike’s Place Market. I really love it and I have gotten to know several of the vendors quite well. It is not uncommon for me to get hugs from some of them, some shout out “Hello chef” as I pass by (a bit embarrassing I will admit), they will always tell you the latest and greatest of what they have that day, and often they are eager to hand you samples to taste. It is not uncommon on days that before 11 A.M. I have smelled mushrooms, sampled cheeses, tasted herbs, and have taken bites of fruit so fresh and ripe I swoon. Some of the ripe bananas and the oranges I picked up from the market.

I often stop off at some of the vendors on my way home from work. Sometimes I  come home with different fruits and veggies for the week. There are other days I come home with anything from fresh truffles, ramps, green garlic, and just about anything that you wouldn’t find at your average corner market. We (Seattlites) are so lucky to have this all a pulse away. Most importantly, I love that I can walk up at any given time and ask any vendor “What is good this week?” and they openly tell you what you should and should not get. While I was being told at how fabulous some of the new oranges were the vendor looked at me and said, “I have bananas so ripe right now I need to get rid of them. I will give you a bunch for $1-.” You do not need to ask me twice about something like that.

The makings of really good peanut butter cream cheese icing.

So I headed home with my oranges and bananas and pondered what to make. I placed the bananas in a bowl at home and gave it a day to think about it. By the next morning I had my heart set on a cake. Why it was just a couple weeks ago I made banana muffins, so it was logical that I graduate on to CAKE! And not just a plain old banana cake, I was thinking of a chocolate chip banana cake with peanut butter cream cheese icing. I stopped in at the dairy vendor at Pike’s Place Market on my way home to get some fresh buttermilk for the cake. In my opinion, if you want a moist banana cake you need buttermilk!

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake filled and topped with Peanut butter Cream Cheese Icing.

By the time evening rolled around my apartment smelled fantastic as that banana cake baked. I let the cake cool and chill over night and the following day I prepared the icing. Slicing the cake to fill and also top it with the icing was perfection. The banana cake is really moist and a rich peanut butter cream cheese is not too sweet and compliments it perfectly. The bits of chocolate chips through out the cake offset the buttery sweetness of both the cake and icing. Brian and I each had a slice after dinner and savored every bit. I brought a big portion to work the next day to share with others in the kitchen. Brian brought a reasonably large piece with him to the office as well. My kitchen staff and Brian’s office enjoyed it so much many came back for seconds. I’m not judging…it is pleasing to see so many enjoy something you loved to make. And to think: If the vendor at the market didn’t let me know how great the bananas were this whole cake might have never happened!?!

Indulging in this delicious cake! (I think I need seconds.)

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing (serves 30)

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake (one 10 inch and one 6 inch cake)

3 cups AP flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cups sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

8 oz butter (room temperature)

3 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (4 bananas)

1 cup buttermilk

1 bag of dark chocolate chips (10 oz)

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Grease, parchment line, and flour two pans (shape of your preference) and set aside.

Next, in a bowl mix together you flour, baking soda, and salt - place tit aside. in the bowl of a standing mixer place your butter and both your sugars and mix with a paddle attachment until it is smooth and well combined. Add the vanilla and eggs (one at a time) until well combined. Be sure to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl so that it is well combined. Add in your mashed bananas and mix evenly.

Then, add a bit of your flour mixture and mix until just combined. Follow with a bit of you buttermilk and gently mix until combined. Repeat the process in two more steps until all your batter s well combined. Fold in your chocolate chips. Pour the batter evenly into your two pans and place in the center of your oven. Bake about 45 minutes rotating half way though. You are looking for the cakes to be firm and set, and have a thin knife or toothpick test the cake cleanly - with no gooey cake batter stuck to it.

Finally, let the cake cool to room temperature in the pan for about two hours. Then, place it in your refrigerator over night. The next morning, pop your cake out of the pan, remove the parchment, and slice each cake in half horizontally. Proceed with the icing recipe below.

NOTE: It is always best to pop a cake out of the pan once chilled in it overnight. You will see it almost always will pop out smoothly and in one piece. Also, it is best to slice a cake when completely chilled. It will result in your cake slicing more cleanly, neatly, and without many crumbs.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing

12 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)

8 oz butter (room temperature)

3 cups confectioners' sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups creamy peanut butter (organic)

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

First, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment place you butter and cream cheese and mix on medium until the butter and cream cheese are well combined. You want to be sure there are now lumps of either ingredient and that it is all smooth. Add in your peanut butter and mix again to combine. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that all your mixture is well combined and smooth.

Next, add in your vanilla and combine well. Then slowly add your powdered sugar with the salt, a little at a time until all is mixed and well combined. You are looking for the mixture to be smooth and easily spreadable. If you feel the mixture is too stiff you can add 1 - 2 tbsp of milk at a time while mixing to thin out the icing and make it as soft and spreadable as you like.

Finally, scoop some of the icing you mixed onto one half of the cut sides of the cake. You will want to do this for both sized cakes, Spread the icing out to all the sides of your cake evenly. Top the icing you spread with the other half of the cake  for each size, Again spread the reminder of the icing over the top of each cake. If your like you can swirl the icing to make it look pretty, but smooth works just as well. You can top the smaller cake above the larger one, chill if not serving right away, but let sit out at room temperature for an hour before eating. (Cake should last for up to a week.)

NOTE: If you feel necessary you can place the smaller cake on a piece of plastic wrapped card board cut to match, but only if you are worried about the two cakes touching. one another. I let them sit directly on one another and they separated finely.

 

Brian celebrates 40 years young with surprises and Flourless Chocolate Cake

Last week was my husband’s 40th birthday. Celebrating was in order. I planned the weekend of his birthday months in advance. You see I knew that his parents and brother were flying in to surprise him. So I looked around, booked a room at a local restaurant for the party, asked him to make a guest list, we picked out the menu, and then I asked him if there was any dessert he would like what would it be? He said he had to think about it, and that was fine by me…because I was now not only keeping the secret that his parents and brother were arriving, but that my sister was flying in too. The French Apple Tarts and Flourless Chocolate Cake all read for the celebration!

As the weeks went by I asked Brian again what dessert he would like. After some contemplating, he came to a conclusion of two desserts! Could I blame him? Absolutely not! He wanted two very different desserts, so that everyone could possibly have something they like. (One of the many qualities I admire about him; he is always thinking of everyone.) Brian asked for me to make something very fall, very fitting – a simple French Apple Tart. These tarts are easy, and elegant in their own way. The other dessert he requested…Flourless Chocolate Cake! I should have known this is the one thing Brian would have asked for. When we had a bakery he loved indulging in a slice of this cake from time to time as we always had it on the menu. It is rich, smooth in texture, possess deep chocolate flavor, and lays nicely on the tongue.  A rich and flourless chocolate cake topped with chocolate ganche; it was very elegant and sophisticated.  Both desserts were quite fitting for a 40th birthday celebration if you ask me.

Two tiered Flourless Chocolate Cake, topped with Chocolate Ganache and 24 kt. Gold Leafing.

So while planning the finalities on the desserts I got a phone call from my parents. They decided to fly in last minute for Brian’s birthday too. Oh, and they wanted it to be a surprise as well. So now I had three very big secrets to keep from Brian and two very special desserts to make. This was going to be some party. So on the Wednesday before his birthday I called Brian in the afternoon and asked if I could take him on a date. Where did I take him? To the local Marriott, I surprised him with his parents and brother waiting in the lobby for him. You should have seen the look on his face. He was dumbfounded and shocked. The next afternoon I had made reservations for lunch at the restaurant I work for. Brian walked in and was surprised with my parents there too (surprise # 2) . He was grinning and told me- “Wow! I feel so loved!” The following day I came home from work with my sister in tow…Surprise #3! Brian was swept away with glee. He said to me the next day as I got underway with the dessert, “I am overwhelmed. I really cannot believe that everyone is here for me. And now, it’s almost time for cake!” You have got to love his enthusiasm.

The night of the party went really well. Brian’s friends, co-workers, and our families had a great time. We all indulged on some great eats, many libations, and then some desserts! Both of the desserts I made were big hits and some people took home a slice or two with them. Three big surprises, festivities that lasted all week long equal out to a not so bad birthday celebration in my book. Brian was a bit overwhelmed and taken back. He kept repeating to me- “It was only a birthday, everyone didn’t have to come all this way.” I think it was a memorable birthday for him. That and I think he choose well where dessert was concerned. Maybe it is experience that comes with age? Or maybe he is just good when it comes to deciding sweets? I will let you decide that one. For now, Happy Birthday Brian! So glad it was a special one.

Sparklers ontop of cake to celebrate.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (makes one 8-9 inch cake)

*This recipe can be doubled easily. For Brian’s birthday cake I doubled it and split it between a 10 inch and 8 inch cake pan.

1 lb of bitter sweet chocolate (chopped if needed)

5 oz. of butter

5 eggs (separated)

1 tbsp of sugar

First, on a double boiler melt down the chocolate and the butter until smooth, let it cool slightly.

Next, preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and grease an 8 inch pan, then line the bottom with parchment.

Then, using a mixer on high speed wisk the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add the sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. But do not over whisk.

Meanwhile, blend the yolks with the chocolate mixture until smooth. Gently fold in the whipped whites a third of them at a time into your chocolate mixture. Do not over mix or the whites will clasps. But be sure not to leave any streaks in the batter either.

Finally, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a water bath for 25 - 40 minutes until slightly set and lightly firm. Cool on a wire rack and then chill in the refrigerator 8 hours or overnight. It will then be ready to pop out of pan and use. If you gently heat the bottom of your pan your cake should quickly pop out of the pan.

 

Chocolate Ganache (enough for 1 cake)

5 oz.  Semi-sweet chocolate (chips are fine but chopped chocolate is best)

1/2 cups cream

First, place Cream and chocolate in a bowl of a double boiler over medium heat (there should only be an inch or two of water in the pan, and the bowl should not be touching the water).

Next, you will want to gently stir the chocolate and the cream together as the chocolate melts. You will keep stirring until your chocolate and cream have unison and are a smooth sauce, and glossy looking.

Finally, remove your mixture from heat and let cool slightly before using.  You will want to pour the ganache over the top center of the cake and let it gently drip down the sides. Let it chill together so that the ganache sets.  Note: If using you can decorate with some gold leafing. A little bit goes a long way. Serve at room temperature. (can hold up to 4 days in a refrigerator if needed.)

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (Happy 3 Years Vagabond)

It was recently my three year anniversary of this blog. Time sure does fly by! I really enjoy sitting down and writing about my cooking – baking – family – experiences – and fun.  Although; the past two weeks I had a really hard time sitting down and writing. Brian has taken on a new project at work that means he has to travel a bit, I have started a new job, and there has been lots of planning for Brian’s birthday that is right around the corner. This is not just any birthday; this is his 40th, so there is definite reason for celebrating! Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

I know that a three year anniversary for the blog may not be as big as a 40th birthday, but I wanted to do something to honor it. I thought long and hard on what it should be. Not too fancy, nothing frilly, but just a little bit sweet and honorary. It made me think back to the cakes we had growing up. My mother would often bake us a cake. Yes it came from a box mix, but that was her way. My mother could make great lasagnas, tripe that the family would fawn over, soulful soups, meatloaves that make your mouth water, and bowls of pasta that are so comforting upon eating them you feel nothing but love.  All of these things she made from scratch. I would sit with my sister in the kitchen and watched her chop her veggies, pour olive oil from the gallon tin she kept in the cabinet, she simmered and cooked away...she did it all. I guess you can say my sister and I learned from the best.

Cake and fresh berries, reason to celebrate!

Baking is just not my mother’s forte.  So I will let it slide that the cakes she made us always came from a box mix. It was always done with love like everything else she made. She always made her cakes in a pretty round bunt pan. As a child I always thought these pans rivaled a castle the way it had peeks and crevices. After depanning each cake she baked she dusted it powdered sugar. My sister and I would wait until she would cut us a slice and we would eat it with the powdered sugar sprinkling on us. It was joy! I loved each and every one of those cakes. I wanted another cake like that. One that was simple, with powdered sugar, and enough that made three years of blog writing more than worthy. I dug out my bunt pan that is similar to the one my mom has. I made a simple Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake. When it came out of the pan I dusted it with powdered sugar and served it up with some fresh berries. No box mix in my kitchen to be had. I enjoyed it as the week grew on just like those cakes my mom made us. I just wish my mother and sister were here to share it with. Happy 3 years vagabond! Now off for more party planning for Brian.

This cake is moist and buttery, just the way a pound cake should be.

Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Pound Cake (serve 10-12)

2 ½ cups of cake flour

1 tbsp of baking powder

¾ tsp of sea salt

8 oz of butter, room temperature

1 ¼ cup of sugar

5 eggs, beaten

1 tsp of vanilla extract

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/3 cup of buttermilk

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour your bunt pan well and set aside.  In a bowl combine you flour, baking powder, and sea salt and set aside.

Next, in the bowl of a standing mixer place your butter and sugar. With a paddle attachment mix it together until you mixture is light and fluffy. Add your eggs, extract, and vanilla bean seeds and mix on low until it is all well combined. You might want to stop a couple times and scrape down the sides of bowl and paddle to be sure it is evenly combined.

Then, slowly add you flour mixture to your butter mixture. Stir it until just combined. Follow that with your buttermilk. Stir it until your mixture is evenly moistened. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and smooth it across the top. Place it in the center of your oven and bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour. Until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake upon testing.

Finally, let cake cool about 30 minutes. After cooling carefully run a knife along all the sides of the cake. Place a platter or plate over the top of the cake and gently flip the two together so your platter is now on your counter and the cake will depan onto it. You might need to tap the pan and bit or give it a jiggle, but is should come out in one smooth motion. Dust the top with powdered sugar and serve

Black and Blue Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Icing

I have been admiring all the berries at the farmer’s markets and grocery store. When you walk by the berries they are beautiful hues of reds, purple, blue, and somewhat pinkish. I hold myself back from grabbing a handful and popping them in my mouth for a taste as I walk pass them. How can you resist? Not only do they look gorgeous, their flavor is so bright and ripe. Black and Blue Cupcake batter all mixed.

As I was gazing at some the other day, I picked up some blueberries and blackberries that were just picked from one of the local farms. I started to think about how I love to eat cheese when I eat fruit, so I stopped by a cheese counter at the market and purchased some fresh goat cheese and headed on my way home. While walking home my mind wandered into how underutilized cheese is when it comes to desserts. I mean besides a cheese plate, cream cheese, or ricotta - how often does cheese actually make an appearance in a sweet ending to a meal?  I love when my thoughts go off on their own tangents because you never really know when inspiration will hit.

Cupcake wrappers filled and in the oven to bake.

By the time I was home, inspiration stepped in. I was thinking of making some cupcakes…berry, filled-to-the-rim cupcakes! There was only one possibility to go along with it…a goat cheese icing to top them off with. The goat cheese would be used like that of a cream cheese. Instead of that sour quality that cream cheese possesses, the goat cheese would lend it's tangy flavor. Taking this and lightly sweetening it, and adding in some vanilla, it would play off the sweet and tart flavor of the berry filled cupcakes. I got to baking and when cupcakes were out of the oven I helped myself to one. It was delicious and the berries burst and oozed with their juices. As I whipped up the icing I tested the flavor, and then again, and again; I was like puppy love – I was in total infatuation. Once again, I held myself back – there is nothing pretty about eating a batch of icing all by yourself with a spoon.

Black and Blue Cupcakes fresh out of the oven.

All in all it was a great experiment. I was extremely pleased with the pairing of it all. When Brian came home and ate one after dinner, he looked at me and asked, “Can I have another?” Of course, but we wrapped up the others and I gave them to Brian to take to work with him. His co-workers graciously helped themselves, and I have been told that they are waiting for this recipe to be written up. So here it is for all to enjoy. And let me just leave you with a warning: the icing is enough for a double batch of cupcakes, if you can resist eating with a spoon on its own. Enjoy!

Cupcakes topped with their yummy Goat Cheese icing.

Black and Blue Cupcakes (makes 15)

(***Note: the cupcake wrappers you see above I purchased at Sur la Table. They are great because they “stand” on their own, doing away with the cupcake pan! Also they come in a variety of patterns and colors!)

4 oz butter, softened

¾ cup sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

2 cups AP flour

½ tsp sea salt

2 tsp baking powder

½ cup buttermilk

2 cups blueberries, heaping

2 cups blackberries, heaping (roughly chopped if they are large)

First; in a bowl, whisk together your flour, sea salt, and baking powder and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer place your sugar and butter and mix until it is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg and mix until just combined, scraping down the edge of the bowl to be sure all is incorporated.

Next, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In three parts alternate your flour mixture, followed by your buttermilk to your sugar and butter mixture. Stir until just combined and not over mixed. Fold in your blue and black berries until well combined.

Finally, scoop your batter into your cupcake wrappers. You are looking to fill the wrappers about ¾ of the way full. Place in the center of the oven and bake about 25 minutes, rotating it half way through. You are looking for the cake to be firm to touch, golden and slightly browned. Let cool about 30 minutes before eating or icing. Keep up to 3 days, but best to be refrigerated.

Icing (makes enough for a double batch of cupcakes)

4 oz butter, softened

4 oz fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

3 cups of powdered sugar, sifted

1 tbsp of vanilla extract

2 – 3 tbsp of milk

First, place your butter and goat cheese in the bowl of your mixer and mix until it is well combined and fluffy.

Next, adding ½ - 1 cup of your powdered sugar at a time to your butter mixture with the mixer running on low. Wait until all the powdered sugar is combined before adding more. Once all the sugar is combined add your vanilla and a bit of milk at a time until you feel the icing has the consistency that you like. (I aim for spreadable while still able to keep its shape.)

Finally, you can ice your cupcakes right away. You can store the remainder of the icing in an air tight container, refrigerated for two weeks. When ready to reuse, be sure to bring to room temperature before trying to spread it. (If you still feel it is too stiff you can remix it with a bit of milk to make it spreadable.)