February 1, 2011 § 4 Comments
I was out of town over the holidays when the massive snowstorm hit the northeast. At work they declared the first snow day in seven years and I missed it! Because I was in Canada! The irony was deeply irritating. I almost wanted to go back home just so I could take advantage of the snow day, but unsurprisingly, it was snowing in Canada too, so I stayed indoors instead.
A couple weeks ago, though, we got hit by blizzard #2, and I had the chance to hole up indoors, hiding from the harsh weather and feeling excessively cozy. I also was seized by the urge to make a snow-appropriate cake, but only on the condition that I didn’t have to go outside to buy any missing ingredients, which I was pretty sure would lead to a melodramatic death by snowstorm. Luckily, I always have butter and cream cheese in the fridge (healthy person that I am), so it wasn’t too hard to come up with a feasible recipe. I had to substitute the sour cream and reduce the orange peel, but really, who likes citrus that much anyhow? No one, that’s who.
This cake is perfect comfort food, and should ideally be eaten while drinking hot chocolate and feeling very smug about being indoors while it snows outside. Although the layers look fancy, it’s really not much work. Apparently it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow – although I personally don’t believe it because clearly all the snow is already in towering mountains on my driveway – and if so, I might just make it again.
Spiced Layer Cake – adapted from Epicurious
I found that there was just barely enough frosting to coat the cake. I liked the ratio, but if you’re a frosting fanatic you might want to up the frosting recipe by a half.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated orange peel ( I used 1/2 teaspoon)
4 large eggs
1 cup sour cream (or if it’s snowing, subsitute half creme fraiche and half yogurt)
1/2 cup whole milk
Cream cheese frosting:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans and line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Butter and flour pans; tap out excess flour. Sift first 8 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and orange peel in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with sour cream and milk. Divide batter among prepared pans.
Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer pans to racks and cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.
For frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Beat in sugar, then vanilla. Chill until ready to use.
Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup frosting over. Top with third cake layer. Cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting.
January 16, 2011 § 1 Comment
Although I wasn’t particularly good this year, Christmas brought a heaping pile of shiny new kitchen gadgets. I wouldn’t have predicted a couple years ago that I would get excited about small appliances, but now the arrival of a stand mixer at my doorstep is thrilling! I’ve somehow become a kitchen dork. I immediately wanted to make towering cakes and extravagant meringues and all sorts of exhausting things, but then I remembered that I don’t really know how to use a stand mixer yet. So in an rare moment of wisdom, I decided to start small.
That turned out to be an extremely good idea. I picked a simple applesauce cake: one layer, cream cheese frosting. I spilled flour everywhere, and accidentally wildly overbeat the batter by my apparent inability to understand basic speed controls, and it was still delicious! I even somehow managed to leave an unmixed swirl of applesauce running through the cake, and this indestructible cake rose perfectly anyhow.
This recipe makes a gently spiced, moist and dense cake. You can cut it into breakfast squares if you’ve already abandoned your New Year’s resolutions, or save it for dessert – either way, it’s very welcome on a chilly January day. And apparently, impossible to mess up, so give it a try!
Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting – adapted from Gourmet
For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped
For the frosting:
5 oz cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts.
Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Reinvert cake onto a rack to cool completely.
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated. Spread frosting over top of cooled cake.
January 6, 2011 § 7 Comments
After a full month of copious overeating, I’ve finally recovered enough to make it back into the kitchen. I never thought I would be tired of eating chocolate, but apparently that day has come. I arrived back home from holiday travels to an empty cupboard and went on a rampant grocery store trip, returning triumphantly with piles of brightly coloured vegetables and an assortment of whole grains. Which I bought in bulk. I feel very virtuous.
So my first steps back into baking were gentle: I made bran muffins. How unlike me! And they were delicious – moist, bran-ny, and didn’t leave me in a food coma. The original recipe says that they have no sugar, but since they have both honey and molasses in them I’m not quite prepared to make that claim. As baked goods go though, these are probably the healthiest things I’ve made (although that’s not a particularly high bar), and perfect for a winter breakfast.
I made my muffins fairly small so I ended up with leftover batter. Being way too impatient to wait for the first batch to bake, I dumped it in a loaf pan and made blueberry bran squares. These are not very sturdy, but just as tasty. I also made a few muffins without blueberries, so that I could compare the outcome – I’m such a scientist! My conclusion was that both were great, and this recipe is worth making. I know the bran ingredients might seem a bit obscure, but once you find them they’re incredibly cheap. I paid 54 cents! It’s a good way to start the new year. Especially if you eat two.
Blueberry Bran Muffins – Adapted from Farmgirl Fare
I strongly recommend weighing your dry ingredients for this, because the brans can pack dramatically different amounts into cups, and my volumes didn’t match up very closely with the recipe.
Yield: 12 gigantic muffins, or 12 small ones and 8 bars.
2 cups (3oz / 86g) wheat bran
1 cup (5oz / 141g) oat bran
1 cup (6oz / 170g) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup (5oz / 156g) milk
2/3 cup (5½ oz / 156g) yogurt
1/3 cup (2¼ oz / 65g) canola oil
1/3 cup (3¾ oz / 108g) sweet molasses or cane syrup
1/3 cup (3¾ oz / 108g) honey
1 teaspoon (6g) vanilla extract (optional, I didn’t use this)
1 1/2 cups blueberries (or substitute cranberries, or 1 cup raisins, or leave them out entirely)
Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a muffin tin or line with paper liners.
In a large bowl, combine wheat bran, oat bran, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, yogurt, canola oil, molasses, and honey (and optional vanilla) and mix well.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until combined. Fold in blueberries with as few strokes as possible.
Generously fill muffin cups with batter. I had a lot of batter left over, so rather than make giant muffins I put it in a greased loaf pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes for small muffins and thin loaf, or 20 to 25 minutes for large muffins. Cool muffins in pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pan and serve warm, or let cool on a wire rack. Possible eating options: butter, honey, and peanut butter are all delicious. These are also reported to freeze well, though I haven’t tried it.
November 7, 2010 § 22 Comments
It seems like every baker has that one perfect recipe for chocolate chip cookies, that they’re so confident in that they need never try another. I’m not generally capable of doing that, since I have a neurotic need to test a bazillion recipes – what if the next one is better? The world could end without me tasting the best possible cookie! When it comes to brownies, however, I have my winner. I guess that someone as serious about chocolate as I am would have to have identified its most perfect vehicle.
This recipe hits all my brownie requirements: dense and fudgy, but not because the batter is underbaked and gooey. They’re intensely chocolatey, so although I don’t actually expect other people to throw away money on fancy chocolate, it should be at least decent quality. The recipe also insists that you let them sit overnight before cutting into them. This is indeed tasty, but honestly who has the willpower? I promise they’re still incredible the day you bake them and absolve you of any guilt over premature brownie-eating.
So here are my favourite brownies: not compared against all other possible recipes, because once I found them, I made them exactly again and again. I’m not saying I’ll never try another recipe, but I haven’t yet.
Supernatural Brownies – adapted from Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) butter, plus more for buttering pan
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use around 65-70%)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, such as muscovado
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup flour
Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper or foil. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Gently melt butter and chocolate together in microwave, or on top of double boiler. Cool slightly. In a large bowl or mixer, whisk eggs. Whisk in salt, sugars and vanilla.
Whisk in melted chocolate mixture. Fold in flour just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until shiny and beginning to crack on top. Cool in pan on rack. If you can stand the wait, cover the cooled brownies tightly with foil and store at room temperature overnight before cutting.