Archive | Cakes RSS feed for this section

Belated Birthday Post: Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

1 Aug

When I woke up on my birthday last month, I had a strange lack of ingredients in the house. Less than a stick of butter, no powdered sugar, and no milk specifically. Not ideal for someone wanting to make birthday cake with frosting, but certainly by no means an impossible task.

What I came up with was actually pretty delicious and reminded me a lot of a cake I used to make for Joe a lot when we were first dating. As for the icing, normally I’m a buttercream kinda lady, but toasted Italian meringue may have won my heart over. It was light and crisp on the outside, and soft and marshmallow-y inside. A perfect companion for this warm, spicy cinnamon cake.

Cinnamon Cupcakes with Toasted Italian Meringue

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 3 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 whole egg and two egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

Italian Meringue Ingredients and Recipe Here

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper liners.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand blender, cream together the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the whole egg and egg yolks one at a time, mixing between additions and scraping down the bowl. Then add the almond extract.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the yogurt and the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, scraping the bowl between additions, until everything is just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cups.

Bake for 23-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To frost, spoon or pipe the meringue on top of the cupcakes and then place under a broiler for 15-30 seconds or use a blow torch to lightly brown the meringue.

These were a pretty delicious way to celebrate #32, I have to say. I bet they’d be great with other toppings too, like maple buttercream, or a crisp brown sugar and oat crumble. Give them a try soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Re-mixing Upside-Down Cake

27 Jul

Upside down cakes are a magic trick to me. The perfect chemistry of caramel, cake, and fruit.  I felt like playing around with this traditional southern favorite this week. The classic variation features a light, white cake, brown sugar caramel, and pineapple rings studded with maraschino cherries

For starters, pineapple is sweet enough—maraschino cherries are delicious, but kind of overkill. We’ve had some lovely, tart blueberries in VA this summer, so I swapped those in for flavor and color contrast, and then brightened the whole caramel up with fresh herbs and lime. I also diced the fruit and let it cook with the caramel, rather than layering them individually. It really let the fruit soak up the herbs and zest. Yum!

As for the cake itself, well, there’s nothing wrong at all with a good white cake, but my favorite batter is a good old-fashioned yellow butter cake. And frankly, no egg whites to whip means less bowls to clean. Shall we?

Pineapple-Blueberry Upside Down Cake with Lime and Mint Caramel

Ingredients

Cake Batter

  • 4 oz. butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup whole milk plain yogurt
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt

Caramel

  • 1 pineapple, cored and diced (fresh or equivalent canned amount, drained)
  • ½ cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
  • 5-6 mint leaves, finely chopped
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar

Method

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Butter a tube pan, bundt pan, or 9 in. cake pan thoroughly.

Combine the chopped pineapple with the lime zest and herbs and set aside.

20160727_122835

To make the caramel, combine the brown sugar, lime juice, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

20160727_122847

Once the sugar dissolves and the caramel is bubbling, add the pineapple mixture, and cook until fruit is soft, well-glazed, and the caramel has reduced by half (5-7 min). Set aside to cool slightly while the cake batter is prepared.

20160727_124016

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the egg and yolks one-by-one, mixing and scraping the sides of the bowl between additions. Add the vanilla and mix well.

20160727_123715

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding yogurt and the flour mixture until all is incorporated. Mix just until the batter is even.

20160727_124144

To assemble, pour the pineapple and caramel in an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Then, make decorative lines using the blueberries.

20160727_124307

20160727_124638

Pour the cake batter over the top. It is a stiff batter, so use an offset spatula to smooth it as evenly as possible.

20160727_124905

Bake the cake for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown on top. A knife into the cake (not the fruit layer) will come out clean.

20160727_133511

Let the cake cool on a wire rack and then invert. Yes, it’s scary, but if you’ve baked the cake long enough and prepped your pan well, then…

20160727_13521120160727_135349

The cake is buttery and rich, the caramel and fruit are tart and sweet, and it all comes together so beautifully.

Enjoy and be inspired to make your own upside down creations!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Sunday Morning Sweets: Old Fashioned Cake Doughnuts

26 Mar

If you were snowed in, work was cancelled, and you had all of the necessary ingredients, tell me…

Why wouldn’t you make doughnuts?

Sure it takes a little time to do it properly, but it wasn’t like I was going anywhere on that February morning.

A lot of people don’t like frying, because they’ve had bad experiences with poorly-fried food. I get it. Believe me, greasy food makes me queasy too. If you keep a thermometer in the pot, fry in small batches, monitor the temperature between batches, and drain food properly, you will end up with almost as much oil in the pot as you started with. Less oil leaching into the food, no greasy texture.

I am always a fan of peanut oil for deep frying as I think it has the most neutral flavor, but you can use anything with a high smoke point.

Since I was snowed in at the last minute on this occasion, I decided to make cake doughnuts. I prefer to allow yeast doughs to rise overnight and we didn’t have that kind of time.

Old Fashioned Cake Doughnuts

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ tbsp salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • Oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

20150222_114358In another bowl, Combine the sugar with the melted butter, milk, and eggs, and blend well.

20150222_114605Slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and beat until you have a batter that comes together, but is very soft and sticky.

20150222_114623Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for one hour.

After chilling, roll the dough out until it is about ½ in. thick.
20150222_122147Cut out doughnuts with a pint glass or biscuit cutter, and then cut out center holes with a small cookie cutter or shot glass.

20150222_122235
20150222_122554Fill a deep skillet with about 1 ½ in. of vegetable or peanut oil, and heat the pan until the oil is about 360 degrees.

Add doughnuts gently to the hot oil, cooking a few at a time so that the oil temperature stays between 360-375 degrees. Once you see golden brown around the edges, flip the doughnuts so that they cook on both sides. Total cooking time is about 2-3 minutes for doughnuts and about a minute for doughnut holes.
20150222_124221Remove the doughnuts using a spider and drain on a cooling rack inverted over a layer of paper towels.

While warm, glaze or sugar as desired. For this batch, I dipped some in cinnamon sugar and others are topped with a simple powdered sugar, milk, lemon zest, and vanilla glaze and sprinkles. I love crazy flavor combinations, but sometimes simplicity is perfect.

20150222_12375520150222_12545720150222_125746

And I have to say that toasty coffee, pajamas, and doughnuts is a pretty fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning with your sweetie, snowed in or otherwise.

Ciao for now!

Neen

Share the Love: Breakfast Cake

12 Sep

A former colleague of my husband’s once said to him that it was foolish of me to bake for my coworkers so often. She claimed that my colleagues would not take me seriously. They would see me as nurturing, mothering, and not as an asset to the company itself. Not a professional.

Huh.

I thought that was some managerial psycho-babble right there. What’s the point of being an asset and doing your best work if you aren’t good to the people around you? What kind of feelings do you build up in your life? What kind of environment do you create if you aren’t welcoming?

Still, that idea struck me when I got laid off earlier this year. Maybe she was right. All summer, I wondered what I would do when I finally found a new job. I fretted over the idea of not being taken seriously. Even though I consider the blog a fine example of my writing skills, I considered removing it from my resume and LinkedIn profile.

Then I thought of the butter tarts and the Nanaimo bars that gave one colleague memories of home. The Happy Camper and FRACAS where I got to share my favorite things with the whole staff. The boerewors I made for my former boss when he couldn’t find it anywhere in DC.  The cider doughnuts I got up early to fry at least once each fall when suddenly DC turned crisp, orange, and gold. The multitude of morning coffees shared with people reaching into the infamous “Giant Cookie Jar,” and leaving with a smile and a thank-you.

I decided then and there that I would embrace my whole self. Wherever I ended up, I’d work hard to be a productive and driven member of the team, AND continue to share what I love.

What is one of the first things we learn in preschool and kindergarten? Sharing. Our smallest selves are taught that if we share with one another, the community as a whole benefits. It’s an enormous ripple effect; joy multiplies when we share. Sharing bonds us and can bring groups together that might otherwise never communicate. It teaches us to think beyond our own personal existence and consider our place as a citizen of the planet.

In other words, sharing is really important. And if it isn’t considered a professional asset to be willing to share (whether it be knowledge, caring, office supplies, time…), then I think we need a serious change of culture.

I did find a new job. In fact, of the 60ish I applied for, I interviewed for, and got the one I wanted the most. And during my first week at the office, an invitation went out for an in-office bridal shower. The party planner happened to be in my office and was discussing the expense involved in buying cupcakes for the party.

“How many do you need?”

And so it began. Inspired by my family’s favorite birthday cakes, I made four varieties that I knew would bring an extra shot of delicious to a celebration. And a tart too, so as to not leave our gluten-free and vegan friends hungry.

A version of Lynn’s Triple Coconut Cake all filled up with tangy lime curd…

coconut cakeRoger’s two joys in one; a red wine chocolate cake enrobed in bittersweet chocolate ganache…

chocolateJoe’s sunny lemon cake with blueberry filling, lemon cream cheese frosting, and candied lemon peel…

lemon cakeA rather decadent chocolate-coconut-macadamia tart with an almond-coconut crust that was both gluten-free and vegan…

tartAnd a tribute to my love of all things breakfast, this little number…

“Breakfast in Bed,” or Brown Butter Cake with Maple Buttercream and Praline Bacon

  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 3 1/2 tsp.  baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup cultured buttermilk
  • 2 tsp.  pure vanilla extract

First, melt the butter and allow it to brown lightly. Then return it to a small container and refrigerate until it has re-solidified completely. Do not skip re-solidifying! Adding melted butter to the cake batter will make for a very dense, sunken cake.

20130906_23380920130907_081156Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour two 12-well cupcake tins (or use paper liners).

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until they are smooth and fluffy. Then add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract.

20130907_08162820130907_081724With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture (in three additions), and milk (in two additions), beginning and ending with the flour.

20130907_082050Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans, and then tap the pans gently on a counter to remove excess air bubbles.

20130907_082457Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until they are golden on top, and a slightly darker golden brown at the edges. They’ll have wonderfully crispy edges a la the pancakes at the ultimate palace of flapjacks, Pamela’s. Do not argue with me about Pamela’s pancake supremacy, you will not win. Important note: These do not rise a lot–they will not have high domes. The cake is still fluffy and moist inside, I assure you. If you really want the extra lift, you can add another tsp. of baking powder.

Place the cakes on a wire rack to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and then remove from the pan and allow them to cool completely before frosting.

Maple Buttercream

  • 8 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

To prepare the buttercream, combine all of the ingredients in a mixer on low speed until they are combined, and then beat on medium-high speed using a whisk attachment until creamy and fluffy. It will take 5-7 minutes.

20130908_08343220130908_084715Praline Bacon

  • 1 lb. sliced bacon
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ oz. pecans, toasted and ground

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Arrange the bacon in a single layer on a wire rack set over a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake the bacon for 20-30 minutes, or until it begins to brown.

Mix together the brown sugar and toasted pecans.

20130908_085332Remove the bacon from the oven and sprinkle the brown sugar / pecan mixture on the slices, pressing down lightly to make it adhere. Return the bacon to the oven and cook until crisp, about another 10 minutes.

20130908_08535220130908_091416Allow the bacon to cool completely before breaking into small pieces.

Finally, assemble the cupcakes. Pipe or spread the maple buttercream onto the cupcakes and sprinkle on the candied bacon.

20130908_094153It really is like eating pancakes with maple syrup and bacon…only better!

The cupcakes went over very well at the party, and the best part is that sharing them helped me get to know my new coworkers better.

So what if people think you’re nurturing? The way I see it, if that’s the most negative thing someone can think of to say about you…you’re doing a pretty okay job on planet earth.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Joe’s Confetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

21 Mar

Who here liked Funfetti cake as a kid? Okay, now who here still likes Funfetti cake as an adult? No shame in admitting it. There’s nothing quite like rainbow cake to bring some unanticipated cheer into our lives. And while that box of color speckled white cake is pretty tasty, the truth is that you can make it yourself with very little angst.

This is what Joe requested for his birthday, and here’s how I put it all together.

White Confetti Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

White Cake

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract½ tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup of multi-colored sprinkles

Quick Buttercream Frosting

  •  6 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 16 oz. butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup milk

Grease and flour two 9 in. cake pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and  1 ¼ cups of sugar and beat until light and fluffy. This will take several minutes on medium speed. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts and then add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk until everything is combined. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Clean and dry the stand-mixer bowl thoroughly and then add the egg whites and a pinch of salt to it. Whip on high speed until the egg whites are frothy and then very slowly add the remaining 1 ¼ cups of sugar. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and holds almost stiff peaks.

Fold one third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest. Add the colored sprinkles and fold them into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly among the two pans and then gently tap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles in the batter.

Bake the cakes for 30-40 minutes or until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15 minutes and then turn them out onto a cooling rack. Let them cool completely before frosting. It is best to wrap the cooled cake layers in plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight prior to frosting.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter on medium speed until very smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until the sugar and butter are combined, then add the vanilla extract, salt, and milk and beat on medium speed until thick. It will take about 3-4 minutes.

Frost and decorate the cake as desired! You will probably not use all of the icing, but it’s better to have extra for decorating. No one wants to run out in the middle of frosting a cake (which I did while testing variations of this recipe).

So freaking good. You can also use a Swiss Meringue Buttercream on this cake, which is a slightly more involved recipe. The upside is that it uses much less sugar and a little less butter without sacrificing consistency or taste.

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 13 oz. butter, softened and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Place a large bowl over a pot of simmering water and add the egg whites and sugar to it. Whisk them together until the sugar is completely dissolved, meaning it does not feel grainy in the slightest. Transfer this to a stand mixer and whip until the meringue is white and doubles in volume. Add the vanilla and pinch of salt.

With the mixer running, slowly add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, making sure the additions are thoroughly combined before adding more. Do not panic if the mixture starts to look like it is separating—trust me, it will come together. Once all of the butter has been added, whip the buttercream on medium-high speed until thick and creamy. It may take 5 minutes or maybe a little more, but it will come together. Scout’s honor.

Both the quick buttercream and meringue buttercream will hold up at room temperature for an extended period of time, although the latter is more susceptible to condensation. So if you have a particularly humid refrigerator I would recommend using the first recipe.


Happy birthday super-fiancé! I hope all of your wishes come true.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Blueberry Not-Quite-A-Pound Cake

13 Mar

Blueberries are not in season. Despite this undeniable fact, I couldn’t resist them when the grocery store had them for buy-one-get-one-free last week. I begin longing for berries long before the first ones roll around in June, so bear with me here. Obviously what we’re getting in the mid-Atlantic US right now aren’t the sweetest or plumpest berries, but the tartness does make them great for baking applications. That combined with a citrusy glaze make this humble loaf cake something special. Its texture and flavor closely resemble that of a pound cake, but the ratio of ingredients isn’t quite there, so let’s just call it something else.

Blueberry Not-Quite-A-Pound Cake

Cake:

  • 4 oz. butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk mixed with ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Glaze:

  • 1 orange, for zest and juice
  • ½ -3/4 cup powdered sugar

Grease and flour a 9×5 in. loaf pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the milk/sour cream and the vanilla extract.


Put the flour, baking powder and salt in a sifter. Gradually sift the dry ingredients into the wet and mix just until combined.

Gently fold in the blueberries. The batter will be quite thick.

Spread the batter evenly into the loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Once removed from the oven, let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

To make the glaze, squeeze the orange (I used a seedless navel orange) into a bowl until you have about 3 tablespoons of juice. Then grate 1-2 tsp. of orange zest and add it to the juice. Mix in powdered sugar until a consistency is reached that will allow the glaze to ribbon when poured. Drizzle this over the cake while it is still warm. I’d wait about 40 minutes to cut into the cake so that it is sturdy enough to slice evenly without smashing.

It’s really good. How good? I’ve made two in the last week at super-fiance’s request and he refuses to share it with his coworkers (sorry EAB, I tried!).

Ciao for now,

Neen