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Posts Tagged ‘Cake’

Peace Offering

Well, it’s official: I am the worst.  I make all these promises (“I’ll be better about blogging!” “I’m back!” “I won’t be a total lame-ass anymore!”), and then I break them pretty much immediately.  It’s no wonder my readership on this blog has plummeted.

To my five remaining readers: I am really, really sorry.

I was going to post a recipe for sweet pea crostini, or the multigrain muffins I made recently, but no.  I could not post a semi-healthy recipe as a peace offering.  Unacceptable.  Peace offerings should involve sugar.  And cream.  And chocolate.

So instead, I offer you this chocolate-hazelnut cake: a moist chocolate cake filled with a milk chocolate/hazelnut cream and coated in a bittersweet chocolate glaze.

Let the groveling commence.

I’m not going to make outlandish claims for this cake, but it will win you new friends, elicit marriage proposals and bring about world peace.  Just sayin’.

In fact, it was such a hit at my friend’s dinner party that several guests demoted their prevailing “all-time favorite” desserts and moved this cake into the top spot.  Whoa.

So, if you think you could forgive me and my slack blogging, I was hoping — maybe — we could kiss and make up.  What do you think?  Not sure?  Why don’t you give this cake a try, and maybe then you’ll give me a second chance.  (more…)

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I have five words for you: strawberry white chocolate buttermilk cake.

Is there really anything more to say? Well, maybe two more words: whipped cream.

I was tempted to call this “strawberry shortcake” — it looks like one, right? — but I would be lying. Technically, a shortcake is more like a biscuit or scone, which is made by cutting butter into some dry ingredients and then stirring in a liquid like buttermilk or cream. The resulting shortcake is flaky, buttery and dense.

But this cake is none of those things. It is fluffy and light, redolent of vanilla and cocoa butter. It is, perhaps, the best white cake recipe I’ve found.

As chocolate lovers and baking know-it-alls will be quick to tell you, technically white chocolate isn’t chocolate at all (maybe that’s why I like it so much). White chocolate is basically just cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids, so when melted and added to a cake, the cocoa butter helps to keep the cake tender and only subtly flavors the cake. In fact, if you didn’t know better, you probably wouldn’t be able to detect the white chocolate flavor at all.

So consider this cake the “little black dress” in your baking arsenal. You can dress it up or dress it down; you can dress it any way you want, really. Given that it’s May (almost June — how did that happen?), I think right now it goes perfectly with sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche and fresh strawberries. But like a classic black dress, it’s a cake that never goes out of style.

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A Small Smackerel

Many years ago, when I first started collecting recipes, I allowed my obsessive compulsive tendencies to run wild and began to organize the recipes by type: entrees in one folder, desserts, vegetables,  and appetizers their own folders.  As the collection grew, I began to divide the recipes into subsets of those categories, separating the chicken recipes from the fish recipes in the entree folder, and clumping together the cakes, pies, cookies and so on in the dessert folder.  What can I say — I like to create order in a world driven by chaos.

But then my collection grew.  And grew.  And grew.  And before I knew it, dividing desserts among cakes, pies, cookies and custards didn’t really do the job.  “Cake,” for example, could describe any number of recipes — layer cake, cheesecake, coffee cake, fruit cake.  Imagine having to sift through a disorganized pile of all of the above.  Perish the thought!  So I started grouping those recipes together as well.

(If you’re wondering, no I don’t group my underwear by color.  I’m not *that* crazy…or at least I’d like to think I’m not…)

Needless to say, I have amassed a rather large and unwieldy recipe collection.  I think it’s safe to say I will probably never get to half the recipes in those folders, as organized as they may be.  But one sub-subset that I love and have yet to bulk up with recipes is the “snack cake” section.

Ah yes, the snack cake: perfect for when you want a nosh of something at, say, 3:30pm, when dinner is hours away but your stomach gets the rumbles.  In my opinion, a good snack cake should be more substantial than a coffee cake, less sweet than a cupcake but less wholesome than a granola bar.  I like snack cakes with some texture: maybe some nuts or bits of chocolate, or some oats or dried fruit.

I have a handful of these recipes, but recently I decided I wanted something new and merged a few recipes to come up with my own: chewy banana-oat snack cake with coconut.  I basically threw together three of my favorite ingredients — bananas, oats and coconut — and hoped the result would be equal to or greater than the sum of their parts.  It was.

Chewy, sweet and filling, this cake is just the thing when all you need is a little nibble — a smackerel, as Winnie the Pooh might say — to make the afternoon hunger pains go away.  But you don’t have to stop at a smackerel.  Sometimes my appetite is as big as my recipe collection, and the only way to bring that into order is to turn a small smackerel into a cake-filled afternoon feast.

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Oh.

(Gulp.)

Hello.

I guess I’ve been a little MIA lately, haven’t I? Sorry about that… Remember that secret I told you about? Well…it’s been keeping me kind of busy. I still can’t tell you what it is yet, but don’t be mad. I’ll share soon enough.

But suffice it to say, this juicy little tidbit has only underscored one of my personality traits: my tendency to “quest.” Try as I may, I can’t help myself. Whether we’re talking about dresses, apartments, recipes, furniture — in my brain, I have a near perfect image of what I want. The problem is, said “image” doesn’t always exist. And so the quest continues.

lith-2.jpg

There is one recipe in particular that I have been questing after since college: Lithuanian Coffee Cake from Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven, CT. Nearly everyone on campus went gaga for it, and I cannot recall more than a handful of birthdays or parties at which this cake did not appear.

What made it so special? Hard to explain. The cake was moist, tender and über dense. I’m sure the fact that the staff slathered the top with buttercream helped too, but even without any icing, the cake was ridiculously, almost indescribably addictive.

Claire Criscuolo, the owner of Claire’s, has written a few cookbooks, so years ago when I spotted the book containing the recipe for Lithuanian Coffee Cake (or “Lith,” as my friends and I came to call it), I snatched it up. I made the cake, prepared myself for bliss and then…ehhh? Something wasn’t right. The cake was light and airy — nothing like the heavy duty slices we were served at Claire’s. And the cake looked so…unimpressively small.

cake.jpg

Shortly after that, I found Claire in her restaurant and asked her what she did differently to make her cake come out so moist and dense. “Just what I say in my book!” she replied. LIES. There’s no way the recipe in her book is the recipe used in the restaurant. Sorry, I’m not buying it.

So for years, I’ve been on a quest to recreate that cake. But none of the recipes I tried were quite right. Most were delicious, but they weren’t The Lith.

Then I came across Sherry Yard’s recipe for her Campton Place Coffee Cake. She describes it as the “densest, moistest coffee cake you will ever eat.” BINGO. With a few tweaks, I could turn it into Claire’s Lithuanian Coffee Cake.

So did I successfully recreate the legendary Lith? I came close — really close, and by far the closest I have come to the real thing. I still can’t put my finger on what is missing in terms of flavor, but it’s very minor. I’ll keep questing for that mystery touch, but in the meantime, enjoy this version. It’s dynamite.

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When I was in college, a friend sent around a forward that asked people to answer a bunch of questions and then send the completed questionnaire back to the sender and everyone else on the list. One of the questions read something like, “Rules are… (a) meant to be broken! or (b) meant to be followed, of course.”

I so wanted to be the kind of “Down with the system!” person who would reply (a). I mean, wasn’t that the point of college? But alas, aside from my penchant for jaywalking and occasional flouting of the “Dry Clean Only” label, I’ve pretty much been a (b) person all my life. It’s not that I don’t question the rules or that I wouldn’t break an unjust one; it’s more that, in my life, the rules within the bounds of breakability usually aren’t worth breaking. The payoff isn’t big enough.

Pear cake

That pretty much sums up my attitude, until recently, toward baking. Unlike cooking, where you can throw in a splash of this and a sprinkle of that, baking is a science. It’s chemistry — acids and bases and emulsifiers and proteins. If you add too much leavening or too little acid, you’re toast (so to speak).

And although the method can vary from cake to cake and cookie to cookie, you end up working within a pretty small set of parameters. Take the method for making a cake: you mix the dry ingredients together, beat the butter or oil with sugar, add eggs one at a time, and then bring everything together, with the help of some liquid. There are scientific reasons for this (coating the sugar with the fat separates the sugar molecules and makes a lighter cake, adding the eggs one at a time allows them to emulsify). And from what I’ve learned, you don’t mess with science (just ask the Incredible Hulk).

Pear cake 2

Then I saw a recipe for a pear cake by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid that broke all the rules. They tell you to mix the dry ingredients together, and then just dump the eggs and melted butter into the flour and mix, adding the pears followed by some milk — as necessary — to moisten the batter. As necessary?? In a cake?

Then I realized this was my chance. I could be that “(a)” person, break all the rules and (gulp) see what happens. So I did. And as long as I was at it, I decided to tweak the recipe a little bit. I figured as long as I was breaking the rules, I might as well go the whole hog.

And you know what? The cake was tasty! It’s one of those utterly homey desserts that you’d want sitting on the kitchen counter, begging you to “even off” its edges. I wouldn’t serve this at a dinner party, but it’s the kind of recipe you’d turn to when you want to throw together a homemade treat at a moment’s notice.

So have I turned over a new leaf? Am I going to start shaking my fist at the law? Probably not. But I do feel emboldened to push the limits a little further when it comes to baking — because with baking, the stakes aren’t that high, and when the experiment works, the payoff is definitely worth it.

Pear Cake 3

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