Archive for Cake

Pay it Forward Giveaway: CakeLove

cakelove You may have seen him on the Food Network, and now you can bring him into your kitchen. This week, I’m giving away a bound galley of CakeLove: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch by Warren Brown. To enter, please promise to do a good deed and answer this question in the comments section: What’s to love about cake? The contest ends next Wed., May 28 at 12:00 A.M. EST.

What’s this Pay it Forward Giveaway, you ask? It’s my way of sharing the wealth. I have too many cookbooks, so I’m spending my own money to ship them, as long as you promise to do good, too. If you need ideas, here’s two causes: the Myanmar cyclone and the North Korea concentration camps.

Even before the cyclone, the military regime kept the rightful president, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest. Myanmar’s also the world’s second-largest producer of opium. Now, the government is stealing aid and giving out spoiled food. While the victims starve, rice is being exported. If you donate to the victims, please make sure the aid actually gets to them. World Vision reports that it has complete control over emergency supplies.

Up until two weeks ago, the only thing I knew about North Korea’s sketchy history was its nuclear weapons. It’s only a shadow of a bigger problem: concentration camps that rival Auschwitz. Citizens (and the next three generations of their family) go there for upsetting the government in the smallest way. A lot of aid ends up on the black market in China, so I don’t think it’s necessarily wise to donate. I can only think of educating people and praying about it.

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Hello, winner!

cupcakes Congratulations to Jessica, who won an advance reading copy of Hello Cupcake! What a craftster. When she was 12, she made her sister a farm/bug cake with gummy fish and swirly blue-green icing. I enjoyed reading all of your comments. You are a creative bunch!

Photo: Hello Cupcake! blog

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Pay it Forward Giveaway: Hello, Cupcake!

Hello Cupcake book

Happy Easter! In honor of the One who paid it all for me, I’m giving away an advance reading copy of Hello, Cupcake! by Karen Tack, a cooking teacher and food stylist for Gourmet, Parents, Woman’s Day, and several other publications. In this book, she’ll show you how to make an animal farm, “The Starry Night,” and even “spaghetti and meatballs” out of cupcakes.

The book doesn’t come out until April 24, but you can win a copy (a softcover with black-and-white images and almost-finalized text) here if you promise to do a charitable act. To enter, tell me what’s the most creative thing you’ve done with food in the comments section by 12:00 AM EST, Friday, March 28. A winner will be chosen randomly.

cupcake pizza
Photo: Alan Richardson

Can’t wait that long? Get started with Karen’s City Skyline Cupcake and Cupcake Pizza.

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St. Patrick’s Day Chocolate Cake

chocolate potato cake

I love potatoes so much that if I were to list the ways I eat them, I would sound a lot like Bubba in Forrest Gump:

Anyway, like I was sayin’, potatoes are the fruit of the earth. You can fry them, bake them, boil them. There’s uh, potato salad, mashed potatoes, screaming potatoes, potato pancakes, potato bread, potato dumplings, potato sticks, potato gratin, criss-cut fries, cream of potato soup, potato curry and potato cake. That—that’s about it.

By cake, I don’t mean latkes. I mean dessert. Mashed potatoes make moist bread, like Nutella babka, but I’d never tried it in cake. I wanted to add it to a favorite chocolate cake recipe, but I wasn’t sure whether it would replace the fat or the flour (because it’s creamy and starchy). Off to the Internet I searched. Some recipes had virtually no chocolate, while others had too much butter. This one, from I Love Chocolate, seemed the most reasonable. Since I didn’t have the Dutch-process cocoa it called for, I used natural cocoa and tinkered with the leavening. Besides, I think natural cocoa has a more complex flavor.

The resulting cake was light and moist. I didn’t think it was chocolatey enough, but maybe it’s because I forgot to add the vanilla. Paired with vegan chocolate frosting, this cake will cause tasters to do a double take. It’s an unusual dessert for St. Patrick’s Day, because it doesn’t scream green (or Guinness). If you really want to go green though, Gourmet.com has plenty of ideas, like apple celery granita.

Irish Chocolate-Potato Cake

Cake adapted from Stephanie Zonis. Frosting adapted from More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally by Fran Costigan.

For cake:
2 medium or 1 large potato (to make 1 cup hot, unseasoned mashed potatoes)
2 tsp instant espresso or coffee granules, dissolved in 1 cup hot water
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
2 tsp plus a pinch of baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs

For frosting:
(Makes 2 cups, enough to fill and frost one 9-inch two-layer cake)
Tofu frosting without chocolate is too watery and beany for my tastes. This one, which resembles mousse, is a keeper.

1 (12.3-ounce) aseptic box firm silken tofu (recommended brand: Morinu)
1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp canola oil
1/3 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 heaping tsp vanilla extract
6 ounces (about 1 cup) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted
1-3 tablespoons chocolate, vanilla, or plain soymilk, if needed

Equipment: potato ricer/food mill or a fine-mesh sieve, food processor, 9-inch round cake pan, serrated knife, icing spatula

Make mashed potatoes: Boil or steam the potatoes until fork tender, about 15 minutes. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer/food mill. Or mash them with a fork and push the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to get rid of the lumps. (You can make the mashed potatoes a couple days ahead of time.)

Make cake: Position a rack to center of the oven; preheat oven to 350°Â F. Grease 9-inch round pan with butter. Lightly flour the pan, knocking out any excess flour; set aside.

Place mashed potatoes into a medium bowl. With a small whisk, gradually stir in coffee to form a smooth mixture; do not beat mixture excessively. Cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer. Beat at a low speed to blend, then beat 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping down bowl and beater(s) with rubber spatula once or twice. Add eggs, 2 at a time, beating in at a low speed until blended. Scrape bowl and beater(s) with rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium; beat 1 minute.

At lowest speed, add sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions and mashed potato-coffee mixture in two additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and beating after each addition just until blended. Scrape bowl and beater(s) occasionally with rubber spatula. Batter may still appear curdled after all ingredients have been added.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven about 1 hr, rotating pan 180 degrees during baking. Cake is done when toothpick inserted near center emerges with a few moist crumbs still clinging to it. Remove to cooling rack.

During baking, cake center will rise higher than edges, but center will fall slightly as cake cools. Cool completely before frosting. Store at room temperature, covered airtight, for up to 3 days; freeze for longer storage.

vegan chocolate frosting

Make frosting: Combine the drained tofu, oil, and salt in a food processor, and process about 1 minute until pureed. Use a rubber spatula to clean the sides of the bowl and add the sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. Process 1 to 2 minutes, until the tofu mixture is smooth.

Add the melted chocolate and pulse the processor three or four times to incorporate. Process 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture is very creamy. Refrigerate in the processor for 20 minutes. The cream may need to chill for 1 to 6 hours in order for it to become firm enough to spread.

The degree of firmness will determine the amount of soy milk needed to create the final texture. It should be thick but easy to spread. Dip an icing spatula into the cream to test to the texture. If the cream is too stiff to use, add 3 tablespoons of the soy milk and process 1 minute. Add more soy milk, 1 tablespoon at a time as needed. When the cream is ready to use, spoon it into a bowl and begin to assemble the cake.

Frost the cake: With a serrated knife, level off the top of the cake. Cut the cake into two even layers. (Need more detailed instructions?) Cover one layer with frosting, then add the top layer. Frost the top and sides.

finished chocolate cake

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Panforte: It’s Not Fruitcake

panforte nero

At this time of year, the dirtiest word you can utter is fruitcake (foodwise, at least). You could be describing the most delicious thing in the world, but as soon as you mention dried fruit, nuts and spices, people associate it with fruitcake and run the other direction.

Fruitcake is lovingly referred to as “the gift that keeps giving,” since every loaf you receive looks suspiciously like the one you gave away last year. If you’re tired of cakes with neon-colored fruit pieces, here’s an alternative.

Panforte is an Italian confection with plump, dried figs; honey and whole nuts. Wait, don’t leave! It’s not fruitcake. It’s sticky and chewy, like the topping on pecan bars. Think of it as healthy fruit fudge, since there’s no butter, cream or oil. When I made these as gifts this year, I was careful not to refer to it as fruitcake. It worked. One of the recipients didn’t even get to bring it home. He took it to a party, and his friend’s mom ate it all.

Panforte with coffee is a morning treat, and it becomes an afternoon pick-me-up when paired with tea. It also goes well with wine and cheese (or so I’ve heard), but I’m not a savory person. The version below is Alice Medrich’s panforte nero (black strong bread), which gets an extra kick from cocoa and spices. If you don’t have all the spices and nuts, use whatever you have. Walnuts work well, and I substituted a scant teaspoon of whole, slightly crushed cumin for the fennel.

To find out more about dessert pioneer Alice Medrich (they don’t call her the First Lady of Chocolate for nothing), check out the “Minimalist’s Dessert” interview, which I did for Chow.com. As another fruitcake alternative, try the date and walnut bars from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies. Just tell the fruitcake-phobes that they’re “friendship bars.”

slice of panforte

Panforte Nero

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Serves 12-16

1 cup (4.75 ounces) hazelnuts, toasted and loose skins rubbed off
3/4 cup (3.75 ounces) whole unblanched almonds, toasted
2/3 cup (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons natural (nonalkalized) cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons slightly crushed fennel seeds
Slightly rounded 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Slightly rounded 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon finely crushed coriander seeds
Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
grated zest of 1 orange, preferably from an organic or unsprayed fruit
8 ounces dried Mission or other figs, tough stems cut off and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar
Powdered sugar or cocoa powder for dusting (optional)

Equipment: An 8-inch round cake pan

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 300° F. Grease the pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Line the sides with a 2-inch wide band of parchment. Liberally grease the parchment all over.

In a large bowl, mix the nuts, flour, cocoa, spices, orange zest and figs.

In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, bring the honey and sugar to a full boil. Boil for 15 seconds.  Take off the heat and pour into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, and quickly, before the syrup hardens.

Scrape the mixture into the pan and spread it evenly. Bake until it bubbles in the center and the edges, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool the panforte in the pan on a rack.

Invert the panforte onto a plate. Peel off the parchment and turn the panforte right side up. If desired, dust the top with powdered sugar or cocoa powder. Serve in thin slices.

Panforte keeps forever, well wrapped, at room temperature. But I don’t think it will last that long.

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Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

chunky chocolate-apple coffee cake

I admit I’ve scooped several cartons of cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream, taking the Oreo chunks and leaving behind the vanilla ice cream. I’ve seen other people maim crumb cake, slowly picking at the top until it resembles a giant network of holes. It’s all for the love of chunky bits. Tell me, what’s the latest topping/mix-in that you’ve picked at?

For all of us chunk stealers, I wanted to make a coffee cake that would never run out of bits, no matter how many times you picked at it. I started with seasonal apples, added chocolate (because everything tastes better with chocolate), then walnuts and streusel. To keep the batter light, I first looked to a butterless, eggless recipe in the Joy of Cooking. While it could easily be veganized (substitute the buttermilk with soy milk and apple cider vinegar), it actually had more sugar and fat than the regular recipe.

Vegetable oil is a “good” fat, but if you use a lot and it doesn’t have any flavor, it’s not worth it. I’d rather use a small amount of the good stuff. So, eggs and butter were back in. Traditional cakes get their light texture by whipping air into butter and sugar. Then eggs are added, just until they are incorporated. Since this recipe doesn’t have a lot of butter, you instead beat the heck out of the eggs, until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.

All the mix-ins balance out the lean cake. If you’re looking for something lighter, you can omit the streusel topping (see the variation below) or chocolate chips. Don’t be scared by all the steps below; they’re only there because of all the goodies.

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

This over-the-top cake gets its chunks from apples, walnuts and chocolate chips. The streusel sinks into the cake and resembles soft cinnamon bun filling.

(Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours, 30 minutes active)

Adapted from recipes and techniques from The Joy of Cooking, Coffee Cakes and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts

For the cinnamon streusel:
1/3 cups Grape-Nuts cereal
1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced into half-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 cup plain yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbsp (1/2 stick plus 1 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″-round springform pan.
  2. To make the streusel:
    • In a small bowl, stir together the Grape-Nuts cereal, walnuts, sugar, flour and cinnamon.
    • In a separate bowl, beat together the egg white, butter and vanilla.
    • Stir the egg white mixture into the cereal mixture with a fork. Cover and refrigerate.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
  4. In another medium bowl, toss the apples and chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour mixture. This way, they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. In a small bowl or cup, combine the yogurt (or what you have chosen) with the vanilla and set aside.
  6. In a large bowl (the last one, I promise), cream the butter with an electric mixer until soft, about 1 minute. Add the sugars gradually, beating for about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one by one, at medium-high speed until light colored and airy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the liquids in two parts, beating on low speed or stirring until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Just before the batter comes together, gently stir in the apples and chocolate chips.
  8. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Evenly sprinkle the top with large dollops of streusel.
  9. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the edges are brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (except when touching the apples and chocolate chips). Cool the cake on a rack for 15 minutes, then unmold. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Serves 12.

Nutrition per serving (121 g): CALORIES 330 (32% from fat); FAT 12 g (sat 8g); PROTEIN 6 g; CHOLESTEROL 52 mg; CALCIUM 10%; SODIUM 193 mg; FIBER 3g; CARBOHYDRATE 53 g. (If made with 50% whole wheat flour and plain low-fat yogurt.)

Variations:

Whole wheat coffee cake: Substitute 1 cup whole-wheat flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour.

Simplified: Omit the streusel and add 1 tsp cinnamon to the flour mixture. Sprinkle the top of the batter with 1/2 cup toasted, coarsely chopped walnuts.

Notes:
This is an experimental recipe. I used a couple tablespoons more buttermilk than called for, and the middle took a long time to cook while the edges got dry. That’s why I reduced the liquid to one cup. I also only baked half a cake for 45 minutes, so the cooking time above is an estimate. My oven loses heat quickly, so it should take you less time. I also only used half a stick of butter, and my edges were slightly rubbery (the result of gluten formation and over baking). The extra tablespoon of butter should do the trick.

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Fall for this apple cake

fog on the apple farm

During fall in New York, the air gets refreshingly crisp, just like the season’s apples. You know the CRUNCH you hear in the Washington Apple commercials? It’s so loud that it sounds fake, but it’s exactly how good apples are over here.

King David apples

On this first day of fall, my friends and I went apple picking (we city folk are easily entertained). Here’s a recipe to put the season’s bounty to use. It’s the only 100% whole wheat cake worthy to be called dessert. Instead of being thrown in for the sake of being whole grain, the whole wheat lends an extra earthiness to the fruit. The flour’s bitterness is offset with boiled cider. (King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking says that any acid, such as orange juice, masks whole wheat’s bitterness. You only need to add a little, and you won’t taste the oranges.) While this cake is high in fiber, it’s by no means low fat. The deep, caramel flavor is lovely, so you skip the frosting it if you like.

apple cake

Legacy Apple Cake (adapted from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking)

Makes 1 rectangular or 9-inch round cake

Cake:

Butter (for greasing the pan)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (traditional or white whole wheat), plus more for the pan
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, or 2 teaspoons apple pie spice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup boiled cider or apple juice concentrate
3 apples, peeled, seeded, and chopped or 1 1/3 cup applesauce
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch square pan or a 9-inch round pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice or apple pie spice; set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the brown and granulated sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping between each addition to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl. Beat in vanilla, cider (or apple juice) and the applesauce (if using).
  4. With the mixer set on low speed, beat in the flour mixture until evenly moistened.
  5. Toss the walnuts and apples (if using) with 1 teaspoon of the flour mixture. This step ensures that the chunks don’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
  6. With a rubber spatula, fold the apples (if using) and walnuts into the cake batter.
  7. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. The round cake pan will take closer to 60 minutes.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

Frosting:

Double this recipe if frosting a double layer cake

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. In a small pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in brown sugar and salt. Cook, stirring, until the sugar melts. Add the milk, bring to a boil, and pour into a mixing bowl. Cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Beat well; if the mixture seems too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar. Use the frosting while it is still warm.

To serve:

Frost the cake. If you are making a round layer cake, level the cake with a large serrated knife. Then cut the cake into two even layers. If only it were that easy, right? The norm is to saw the knife back and forth into the cake. I always get raggedy edges with lots of crumbs.

Baker Linda Dann taught me an easier way. If you are right handed, hold your cutting arm against your body. With knife in hand, bend your forearm so it’s parallel to the cake. Steadily place your free left hand on top of the cake and turn it counter-clockwise into the knife. Don’t move your cutting hand. Keep pushing/rotating the cake into the knife, and you’ll get a clean cut. If you are left handed, switch the hands and rotate the cake clockwise.

Notes:

Boiled cider is simply apple cider that’s been concentrated till it’s thick and syrupy. To make it, reduce 1 1/2 cups of regular cider in an uncovered pot till you have 1/4 cup. I think this took me half an hour.

For a reduced fat version, replace 1/2 stick of butter with 1/4 cup of applesauce. Add the applesauce with the cider.

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Fall Baking Preview

Summer vacation’s over, so it’s time to get down to business. Baking business, that is. While last year was prevalent with home baking handbooks (in the vein of Baking: From My Home to Yours and Tartine), this year has more niche, sophisticated books. I can’t wait to see these books by the baking super stars.

Warning: with the exception of the first title, I haven’t actually seen these books, so these selections may be skewed.

Pure DessertChocolate’s first lady is back after four years on hiatus, but this time, she’s giving chocolate a back seat. Pure Dessert devotes each chapter to an artisan ingredient, such as dairy, sugar, grains/nuts/seeds, herbs/spices/flowers, wine, fruit and last but not least, chocolate. These recipes are pared down to the essentials. There’s no frosting or other hullabaloo, just interesting flavor combinations like kamut pound cake and sesame brittle ice cream.

Alice Medrich previously wrote the books on chocolate, including Cocolat, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts and Bittersweet. She’s tied with Alton Brown for being my biggest culinary inspiration. I’ve made a gazillion of her things, like low-fat chocolate mousse truffles and chocolate-hazelnut cake, with great success.

Release date: Sept. 5.

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain BreadsEver since I made bagels from the James Beard and IACP award-winning cookbook, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I’ve been a fan of Peter Reinhart. His new book promises the same artisan type loaves, but with whole grains.

While I was a recipe tester for the book, he was an excellent teacher, even over e-mail. He walked the testers through growing wild yeast with nothing more than flour, water and pineapple juice. Even though I wouldn’t feed some of my early loaves to my enemies, Peter kept encouraging us to continue. After a year of keeping my wild yeast starter, I gave up on it and killed “the beast.” It was a hassle feeding it every couple of days and using the excess for muffins and crumpets.

Luckily by then, Peter developed recipes that used packaged yeast. The final recipes I tested – the 100% whole wheat challah and potato rosemary – were good for whole wheat breads but not as good as white flour breads.

Release date: Aug.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, GooeyI don’t know of a more inviting cookbook name than Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. If you’re like me and adore caramel and chocolate sauce, this book looks good. Chocolate caramel-pecan souffle cake, cinnamon-donut bread pudding and double-crumble hot apple pies sound like guilty pleasures.

Release date: Aug. 6.

Dolce Italiano

Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook had some interesting recipes, like olive oil gelato. Now there’s an entire cookbook devoted to Babbo’s desserts in Dolce Italiano. If you think Italian desserts are just dried out sponge cakes, Gina De Palma shares recipes for sesame-white corn biscotti and Greek yogurt cheesecake with pine nut brittle.

Release date: Oct. 15.

Demolition Desserts

The desserts at Citizen Cake are like traditionalist meets rebel. There’s rocky road cupcakes, passion fruit mousse fillings, and cakes that are carved like geometrical shapes. If you can’t make it to San Francisco, you can make these desserts at home, thanks to Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts. She was named Bon Appétit’s Pastry Chef of the Year in 2006 and was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s pastry chef of the year in 2005.

Release date: Oct.

I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

The holidays Life wouldn’t be complete without chocolate. Although there are a million chocolate books out there, they never get old. Marcel Desaulniers, Mr. “Death By Chocolate,” shares holiday desserts in I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas. Honestly, why can’t chocolate sour cream crumb cake and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream sandwiches be year round?

Release date: Oct. 1.

Desserts by the YardSherry Yard, the pastry chef at Spago in Beverly Hills, has probably fed every major celebrity. Whereas her first cookbook, The Secrets of Baking, was a tutorial on master recipes and their variations (ie how to make a ganache and turn it into truffles, hot chocolate and frosting), Desserts by the Yard features sweets that Sherry makes for the stars. There’s even a recipe for Bill Clinton’s favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. Hmm, I wonder what Paris eats.

Release date: Nov. 1.

Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & MoreCarole Walter has written an award-winning series of other “great” cookbooks, including Great Cakes, Great Cookies and Great Pies & Tarts. I felt uncomfortable around her when I assisted in one of her classes, but in all fairness, her recipes are inventive, fool-proof and delicious. Maybe Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More will end my search for the perfect babka.

Release date: Oct. 16.

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Caramel Challenge

caramel cupcakes

No one goes to a restaurant and says, “I’ll have a sugar-flavored cake.” Chocolate is a flavor. Vanilla is a flavor. Sugar is an ingredient, not a flavor. Saying you ate sugar-flavored dessert is as redundant as ordering pizza with cheese. Except when you burn sugar, then you’ve got sugar-flavored dessert. In that case, it’s called caramel.

As much as I and 99% of the world love chocolate, I use it as a crutch in baking. It’s very hard to make a bad dessert with chocolate, and I wonder if everyone’s tired of hearing me talk about and cook with it. To challenge myself, I decided to make a “plain” dessert. No spices, no fruit and most of all, no chocolate.

I’ve been intrigued by the traditional Southern caramel cake. Through cryptic hints, a native Mississippian (who I interviewed for the AP) told me that the icing is cooked in a cast iron skillet and enrobes some kind of butter cake. Pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon’s caramel cake recipe seemed like a good place to start, but the process involved making caramel syrup and letting it cool before adding it to the batter and frosting. Plus, I didn’t feel like ingesting about three sticks of butter. I also didn’t have any powdered sugar for the frosting.

For the sake of simplicity, I made Golden Vanilla Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. A touch of heart-healthy canola oil is beaten with sugar, soy milk and apple cider vinegar. The vinegar thickens the soy milk, tenderizes the cake and also adds flavor. Apple cider vinegar is a staple in the vegan kitchen; it makes soy products taste like sour cream. White vinegar also works, but it’s plain, just as canola oil is bland compared to olive oil.

Then you add your standard flour, salt, leavening agents and cornstarch (to mimic silky cake flour). What I liked about the recipe was its simplicity, and it wasn’t too sweet.

Unfortunately, the texture was more like a muffin. I’ve had several vegan baking flops like this banana bread, and I’m convinced that vegan baking will always fall behind. Part of the problem is no butter; aerating butter with sugar creates a delicate, even crumb like that in pound cake. Sarah Phillips, author of The Healthy Oven Baking Book, says you can cream oil with sugar and eggs (egg whites create a nice foam). But creaming oil and sugar just isn’t going to happen. Unless you resort to vegan butter substitute, vegan cakes are mixed via the muffin method. You just mix wet and dry ingredients, which yields irregular air pockets. The cake was very good for what it was, but it wasn’t good enough for me. I challenge you, readers, send me a vegan dessert recipe that behaves as well as a conventional one. If I find one I love, I’ll send you…something.

For the frosting, I started with Nigella Lawson’s brown-butter frosting from How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I deviated from the recipe by heating the sugar with the butter. I wanted to make the caramel flavor strong, and I needed to dissolve my granulated sugar anyway. (The original recipe calls for browning the butter alone and adding powdered sugar when it’s cool.) Del Posto pastry chef Nicole Kaplan says you should let caramel go to black death, but unless you’re experienced with sugar, I wouldn’t recommend going that far.

I stood in front of the stove, daring myself to let the caramel go darker: “It looks like honey. Now it’s like maple syrup. Ooh, now it’s mahogany. Keep going to black death, keep going…Oh no, it’s smoking. What is that smell?” I quickly took the pan off the heat and added soy milk to keep the whole thing from solidifying like a lollipop. I accidentally added too much milk and had to add more sugar to thicken it and temper the bitterness. Even though I used superfine sugar, my frosting was still a little grainy. So, use powdered sugar for the final adjustments.

Caramel Cupcakes

For the Golden Vanilla Cupcakes:
From Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Makes 12

Ingredients:

1 cup soy milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line muffin pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Whisk the soy milk and vinegar a measuring cup and set aside a few minutes to get good and curdled.
  3. In a large bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir to combine.
  4. In a separate large bowl, beat together the soy milk mixture, oil, sugar and vanilla. Stir the dry ingredients and mix until no large lumps remain.
  5. Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full and bake for 20-22 minutes till done. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

For the Caramel Frosting:
(Make at your own risk; this is a developing recipe)
Adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
Frosts 12 cupcakes

Ingredients:

10 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp milk, plus a couple more Tbsp as needed (soy is fine)
1/3-2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan (preferably cast iron, because it contributes a deep flavor), combine the butter, sugar and salt over medium heat. Stir and cook until it turns mahogany, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in 2 Tbsp of milk. Mixture will sputter and boil rapidly. Transfer the caramel to a bowl and let it cool for a couple hours or overnight.
  2. With an electric mixer, beat the caramel with powdered sugar and milk until the sweetness and texture are to your liking. The consistency should be thick and spreadable, like mayonnaise. Add the vanilla. Frost on cooled cakes.
  3. Refrigerate leftover frosting and spread on pancakes, waffles, biscuits and muffins.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking

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24-Karat Cake

 

carrot cake

I’m only 24 years old, but I’ve already inherited an heirloom. An heirloom recipe, that is. Last year, I praised my grandmother’s carrot cake as one of the best desserts ever. That’s saying a lot because chocolate is my favorite food. I have fond memories of that cake because it accompanied me since I was four, from birthdays to holidays to “every day.” Like I said before, it was the standard by which I compared all other carrot cakes. Sadly, my grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and stopped cooking several years ago.

Up until that post, I was afraid that the cake would be a distant part of my memory. No one knew the recipe except for my grandmother. Thanks to my readers’ comments, I mustered enough courage to ask for the recipe. It seemed like such horrible timing; my grandmother was in and out of the hospital.

Finally, my aunt tracked down the recipe. My grandmother hid it in her purse for 15-20 years! Although she was frail, my grandmother laughed when she heard that I wanted the recipe. “I can still make the best carrot cake,” she said. About a month later, she fell into a coma and died.

When I made this cake, I was not disappointed. It was just spicy enough and had lots of carrot flavor. Trust me, I’ve exhausted all the variables for the best carrot cake (Nuts or no nuts? Pineapples or raisins? Cinnamon AND nutmeg? Coconut?), but this one is worth its weight in gold.

Here it is, as my mother translated it from Chinese.

Grandma’s Carrot Cake

This receipt is from Jessica Su’s Grandma. She used to bake this cake for the family and it’s enjoyed by everyone.

Ingredients:

2 Cups Flour
2 Teaspoons Banking Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoon Cinnamon Powder
2 Cups Sugar
1 ½ Cups Oil (may reduce a ¼ cup)
4 Eggs (in room temperature)
½ Cup Crashed Walnuts
3 Cups Shredded Carrots
1 Cup Minced Pineapple
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Direction:

  1. Shift the flour, banking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.
  2. Beat the egg
  3. Mix the dry ingredients, beaten egg, oil, carrot, pineapple, walnuts, and vanilla
  4. Pour the mix in a bundt cake pan (don’t need to oil the pan)
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degree, and bake for 1 hour.

Notes/tips:

  • For cupcakes, bake for 20 minutes. Yields about 2 dozen.
  • I used 1/2 cup of oil and 1 cup of applesauce. It still yielded a moist and airy crumb. Actually, maybe a little too airy! I like carrot cakes that are denser. To combat this “problem,” I recommend using half whole-wheat flour. You may also use 100% whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour.

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