Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pear Birthday Cake

For a milestone birthday a number of years ago, I first made this pear cake and it has been a standout in my memory ever since. I am always curious about people who say their favorite cake is carrot, and if they really just mean they like moist spice cakes. Pear is such a great flavor and texture and to me is far superior and more original than carrot cake and I love to incorporate them in baking. 

The original pear cake

I was looking through new fall cake recipes and came across a pumpkin version that I thought would work well with a pear substition. I am thrilled with the exceptional three layer cake that resulted, which is moist and dense without being heavy. I used a very sweet cinnamon filling, but the frosting itself is a light and smooth buttercream flavored with caramelly browned butter. Absolutely Fantastic!

Spiced Pear Cake with Browned Butter Frosting

Inspired by Fine Cooking

For the pears
2 large ripe bosc pears, peeled, cored, and pureed 

For the cake
6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter; more for the pans (4.5 ounces browned butter)
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 cups pear puree

For the frosting
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter
16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
10 oz. (2 1/2 cups) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons bourbon (optional)

Make the cake

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour three 8-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or line the bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).  Can also use two 9-inch pans and bake 28 minutes.

Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk 1-1/2 cups of the pear purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

Make the frosting
Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the cake. Garnish with candied spiced pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, chopped crystallized ginger, or other festive fall decorations.


Note that for the cake pictured above, I used my favorite cinnamon buttercream as the filling between the layers and half a recipe of the browned butter frosting for the exterior. This obviously is extra work (unless you keep frosting on hand in the freezer like I do!) but I loved it. LOVED it. The cinnamon frosting would be too sweet to use alone, because the cake is sweet as well. The buttercream would be excellent as both frosting and filling. Though it uses 2:1 cream cheese to butter, the consistency is much smoother and more like a standard buttercream than the typical stickier cream cheese frosting. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Apple Kuchen

This beautiful apple kuchen was featured as a Rosh Hashanah article and I just loved the technique with the apples. They aren't slices, but are cut just part-way through so that they fan when baking. 

I took this to a brunch gathering. It's very sweet from the honey glaze, even though I only used about half of what the recipe called for. The cake itself is dense, and very gingery which I love but some people might feel lis overkill. I will definitely use apples sliced this way in the future, whether or not I use this exact recipe again. 

Though the recipe called for lemon, I only had orange, so I substituted orange zest and juice. The baby gala apples I used were just right in both size and texture. Ultimately, mine needed 15-20 additional minutes (after 45), even though my oven is hot and was close to 350 for most of the time. 

For the cake:
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), plus butter for greasing pan
1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus flour for dusting pan
½ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling apples
¼ cup raw honey
3 eggs
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 ounces candied ginger, diced
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 small apples, peeled and quartered

For the glaze:
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (springform pan or removable bottom).

Cream together butter and sugar, then add honey and whip for one minute until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, until well incorporated, then whip for two minutes.

Stir in grated ginger, candied ginger, and lemon zest.

Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Blend in with wet ingredients to make a stiff batter. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Cut slits in each of the apple quarters on the rounded, outer part of the wedge, slicing partway through at 1/4-inch intervals. Arrange apple quarters slit-side-up over the batter and sprinkle surface with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Place cake pan on a baking sheet and put on middle rack of oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until an inserted skewer emerges dry. If cake is browning too rapidly, tent with foil until done.

Cool on a rack, then carefully unmold.

Make the glaze by bringing sugar, honey, and lemon juice to a boil and stirring until sugar is dissolved. Paint surface of cake and apples with warm glaze. Cake will keep for several days, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Double Chip Cookies

These cookies bake out thin and chewy but crispy around the edges. Take out of oven when golden but still puffed and they'll cool to a craggy deliciousness. I'd like to try with just chocolate chips and see if it works as my new go-to-recipe.

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 ounces peanut butter chips plus 8 ounces chopped milk chocolate bar (try 16 ounces semi-sweet chips or chunks)

Preheat oven to 350. 
Cream butter and sugars.
Mix in eggs and vanilla.
Combine dry ingredients and blend in. Stir in chips. Drop by large teaspoonsful on ungreased baking sheet, leaving room to spread. Bake 12-14 minutes. Cool on sheet before transferring to rack to cool completely.

found at food.com

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Nectarine Crisp

Served with brown sugar-cinnamon ice cream
Preheat oven to 375.  Butter a deep dish pie plate or 2 quart baking dish.

3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 oz marzipan or almond paste
6 tablespoon cold butter
1/4 sliced or chopped almonds
1/2 cup quick cook oats.

Pulse the flour, spices, and sugar in a food processorAdd marzipan and butter and pulse until pea sized clumps form. Mix in with almonds and oats with your hands or a spoon.

About 2 pounds nectarines, sliced ~1/4 thick
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup sugar (I used Splenda)
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Toss fruit mixture until well combined. Layer into pie plate. Squeeze clumps of topping into coarse chunks and spread across top of fruit mix until fully covered. Bake 35-40 min at 375. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Brown Sugar Ice Cream

I got the idea for this ice cream from the amazing cinnamon frosting that is flavored with brown sugar, and from the fact that I finally feel I have a "go to" ice cream base recipe, and I was ready to start playing with it. 

I took it to friends for dessert after a Sunday evening barbeque. The last time I'd offered to take dessert to share with them was on Fourth of July and my ice cream mixer wasn't completely frozen so the ice cream never set. We still poured it over apple pie, but needless to say I was disappointed. Having good ice cream to make up for that experience was essential, but this recipe far surpassed "good" and I'm making it again for my father-in-law's birthday to serve with a nectarine tart.

Another thing I tested with this recipe was a shortcut to the process. Instead of heating all the cream and milk in the process of tempering the eggs, I only used some so it wouldn't take so long to get to temperature. I didn't notice any difference in the final product so this will be my new procedure.

2 cups whipping cream (I use 30% butterfat)
2 whole eggs (room temperature) 
1 cinnamon stick
3/4 cup dark brown (or light brown) sugar
1 cup milk (I use skim, but any type is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum

Heat cream and sugar over medium heat until simmering and sugar is completely dissolved. 

In a separate bowl, mix eggs until blended. Add a few tablespoons of hot cream mixture to blend, and bring slowly up to temperature, then gradually stir egg mixture into hot cream over medium heat until it reaches 165 degrees. Remove from heat. Stir in milk. Lay plastic wrap on the surface of the liquid and chill overnight. 

The next day, remove cinnamon stick from mixture and stir in vanilla and rum. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Eggnog Cake

The next evening, I made a cake for another holiday party, and decided on an Eggnog cake that had just appeared in the Seattle Times. I love eggnog, and this was a party at my grandmother's elder home, so the mildly-throwback-ness of eggnog seemed appropriate. I had also decided I wanted to use my other shaped pan, a snowflake, and believed the pound-cake-esque loaf recipe would do well in the pan, holding it's shape as well as releasing from the mold. On this point, I was exactly right. The cake inverted painlessly, maintaining all the lovely details of the showy snowflake shape in golden-crumbed glory. For a frosty presentation, I merely dusted with powdered sugar and a light sprinkling of white sugar granules.

I ended up initally rather disappointed with the cake, I did like the gently-spiced, buttery flavor, but I found it quite dry, and was surprised the recipe hadn't called for a light glaze, or brandy-laced whipped cream. While those would unquestionably be exceptional accompaniments under any circumstances, I don't think it was just my imagination that this cake aged well, becoming moister and more flavorful the next day.  I will probably  make this again, and even confidently bring out a shaped pan in which to bake it, I will probably try a thin glaze, or maybe even a light brandy soaking syrup, and serve with whipped cream or hard sauce.

Made as called for in a loaf pan with an eggnog glaze of 1 tsp eggnog whisked with powdered sugar.

Baby Carriage Cake

I did have the perfect opportunity this very weekend in my offer to make a baby shower cake for a friend. I had already determined I wanted to make a cake with champagne. What better way to celebrate the joy of a new baby than to pop open a bottle of bubbly, and what more responsible way for a pregnant mama to enjoy said effervesance than to bake away the alcohol. I hadn't yet crafted a visual for this cake though, so after I formulated my plan, I realized my design could easily incorporate two different kinds of cake. What to do for cake #2? The standby favorite go-to white cake!

The parents decided not to find out the baby's gender, so the design
for this cake incorporated a pink and blue question mark.

The champagne cake is really something quite remarkable. I have made one before, but the recipe I used this time was far superior. Simply replace the soda called for in the recipe with a sparkling wine of your preference (I used Ste. Michelle blanc de blanc). Be sure to taste the batter before you bake it, in case it needs extra sugar. Eliminating the soda removes significant sweetness, and I was prepared to add up to one additional cup of sugar to the batter, but in this case it didn't need it, so the only substitution I made was with the liquid. The result is startling when you first bite in if you are not expecting it. But if you know in advance that the cake is made with wine, you will instantly appreciate the sophisticated flavor. It is moist and slightly spongey, though without being at all eggy as some sponge layers are. At the same time, the texture is very firm which makes it nice for cutting into shapes and sculptures, as well as for frosting, and simply for slicing beautiful, even pieces. But my favorite part of this cake is the yeasty aroma and slight aftertaste, like eating a delicious piece of freshly baked bread. What makes this cake so special for me is that it brings together elements that I don't generally envision together, in a way that makes them seem all the more unique and well-matched. Plus, I just love champagne and it is a great gesture of joyful celebration.

I wanted to fill it with vanilla custard on this occasion, but I had some snafoos with that recipe and ended up with a lightly sweetened whipped cream filling. I think the cake would be terrific with traditional champagne pairings like strawberries and oranges such as a strawberry mousse filling or a "mimosa" with orange curd and orange glaze.

This cake was very time-consuming to decorate due to the basketweave of the frosting (this is actually a delightfully clever and simple technique, but it does take some patience and some solid wrist control.) But the structural engineering couldn't have been simpler: bake in standard 9-inch pans and cut away one quarter. Cupcakes and mini-cupcakes comprised the tires and the question mark. This is what inspired this subject of this post... good cake (or, in this case, dry, powdery, tasteless cake).

As I said above, my intention with this blog is to document my own experiences and offer something of value to other bakers and eaters. I don't want to criticize, but in this case, sharing my disappointment with a recipe is an important part of establishing what criteria for later positive reviews and recommendations. That said, I couldn't be more unhappy with the "go-to white cake" lauded by 17andbaking.com. Even my husband when I silently offered him a taste - whose default answers are "it tastes delicious, you look great, you can decide" - took one bite of this cupcake and paused to think about how he is supposed to react. As he smacked his lips apart in paste-y disgust, I answered for him, "it's terrible!"

Now, in all fairness, the cake has a firm texture that helps it hold up well to cutting, layering, and frosting. The lack of taste also warrants it an easy accomplice to all sorts of frosting and filling combinations. Given this, it's especially important to determine why you think a cake is good; if you want something that is easy to mix, bake, and work with, this is a winner. But if it's not going to taste good on it's own, why would you want to drown it in disguising toppings? Frostings and fillings should enhance a cake, not rescue it from inedibility.

The Cake Bible addresses this topic very plainly, stating that while cakes can be works of art in their own right, ultimately they are created to be enjoyed orally, so if they don't taste good, in the end it doesn't really matter how pretty they are. I believed after reading those passages that The Cake Bible would have all my answers to ideal cake recipes. As it turns out (more about that in other posts), only some of the recipes are really to my liking, and many have let me down. But knowing what you want out of the cake in advance will get you all the closer to finding just the right one.

All that was left after the party.

Update 3 days later:
I am too frugal to throw away the leftover white cake cupcakes, but I was too embarrassed to share them at work, so I've just been eating off them a bit each day. I've been surprised at how they are not nearly as "flavorless" as I found them on the first day. A day and two days later, the cake is sweeter and more lemony so I am wrong to call it tasteless. I stand by my assessment of the texture being powdery; it still has a stick-in-the-throat pastiness. Nevertheless, I may give this recipe a second try using all-purpose flour; I've found over many experiments in the past that I find the fine grain of cake flour to result in a cake that is too dense and it's possible that is a factor here. Stay tuned.