We had some friends over for dinner at the end of February and decided to try to will spring into existence by making turkey club sandwiches and this lemon bundt cake. We’re just now getting to the point where we have the occasional 40 degree day, so the whole “willing spring” thing didn’t work. But the cake was excellent.
Looking for a lemon bundt cake recipe turned out to be a little bit of an ordeal. I came across a lot of recipes that either called for weird ingredients like lemon jello mix or were basically a doctored lemon cake mix. Everyone has their own baking perogatives, and using lemon jello in a cake batter just isn’t one of mine. I also found a lot of recipes that rely on lemon extract for an infusion of lemon flavor, which is better than the above options, but still not great. I’ve made cakes with lemon extract before and haven’t been completely happy with the result.
This recipe originally comes from Cooks Illustrated, which you know means that it has some kind of trick up it’s sleeve to get good lemon flavor from, you know, actual lemons. The recipe has you mince your lemon zest to release a little extra flavor and then soak the zest in fresh lemon juice to amp the flavor up even more. It’s kind of brilliant. With this lemon zest/juice mixture added in, you end up with a cake with a definite lemon taste that’s light and fresh. Then when the cake comes out of the oven, you load it up with a double coat of glaze to give the cake some real tang. I would recommend making this a day in advance if you have the time/the willpower to resist. The flavor and texture of the cake both improve with time.
I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I soured some whole milk with (obviously) some lemon juice. The cake turned out well, but the glaze tasted a bit flat so once the glaze was at the right consistency, I whisked in 2 tbsp of melted butter. The butter isn’t necessary, but I thought it improved the flavor of the glaze. I don’t know if it would be necessary if you were using buttermilk—I look forward to trying this recipe again with buttermilk to find out.
Also: I ate this cake every morning for breakfast until it was gone. I regret nothing.
Note: You’ll need 5-6 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice for this recipe. You should be able to get all the juice you need from the 3 lemons you will zest for the cake, but it wouldn’t hurt to buy a 4th lemon just to be safe.
For the cake:
Zest of 3 lemons
3 tbsp lemon juice
3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
18 tbsp (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 c sugar
For the glaze:
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp buttermilk
2 c powdered sugar
2 tbsp melted butter (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a bundt pan.
Mince the lemon zest until it resembles a fine paste. Combine the zest with the lemon juice in a small bowl and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the lemon juice mixture, the vanilla, and the buttermilk. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add in half of the buttermilk mixture and beat to combine. Repeat, alternating the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture until all the ingredients have been combined. Be careful not to over-mix—use a rubber spatula to incorporate any lingering flour.
Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared bundt pan. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 45-50.
While the cake is baking, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze, starting with 2 tbsp of lemon juice and adding more gradually until the glaze is thick but pourable.
When the cake is done baking, allow it to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, invert the cake directly onto the wire rack. Place a plate or pan beneath the rack and drizzle half of the glaze over the cake. Allow the cake to cool on the rack for an hour. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the top of the cake and continue to cool until the cake is room temperature.
I try to make it a rule not to buy specialty ingredients for a single recipe, especially if it’s a rather expensive ingredient. But sometimes you stumble across a recipe that makes you forget your guiding baking principles. For this recipe, that ingredient was a $9 jar of flaked sea salt. It was worth it given that these brownies fall squarely in the “to die for” category of baked goods, and I think the salt makes a difference—it has just the right flavor and just the right balance of bitterness that having salt on your brownies tastes wonderfully intentional rather than a terrible baking error. I’ve made these brownies twice now: once for a department potluck and once for a small dinner with friends. They were a hit both times—in fact, the second time, our party of four managed to kill half the pan in a single sitting.
These are a grown-up brownie. By that, I don’t mean that kids won’t like them, but I do mean that they hit a very different note than your typical brownie. These are a rich, fudgy brownie with a dark, deep chocolate flavor that is brought out by the coffee called for in the recipe. (Okay, I admit it. I also bought instant coffee just to make these brownies. I regret nothing.) The addition of both the caramel and the salt help to really bring out the bitter flavor in the chocolate, which means that if you are a fan of dark chocolate, you’ll probably also be a fan of these brownies. This a dessert for people who really love chocolate and for people who shy-away from overly sweet things. The basic brownie recipe from the back of the King Arthur flour bag is still my go-to, but these brownies are running a very close second.
Now that I have a 9$ jar of specialty salt sitting in the cupboard, every time I think about baking now I wonder: should I make the brownies? I will, of course, keep making these brownies because they are fantastic. But if you’ve got any other recipes or recommended uses for flaked sea salt, I’m eager to hear them!
Salted Caramel Brownies (Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)
Note: This recipe makes a 9×13″ pan of brownies, which can be cut into 12 generous slices or 24 smaller servings, making this a good recipe to make when baking for a crowd. My flaked sea salt had some very big flakes in it, so I crushed it between my fingers a bit while I was sprinkling it on the brownies.
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter
8 oz plus 6 oz Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
1 tbsp vanilla
1 c plus 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 c plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5-6 oz of caramel sauce
2-3 tsp flaked sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease and 9×13” baking pan.
Melt the butter, 8 oz of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When the mixture is completely melted and smooth, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
While the chocolate cools, stir together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar in a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. In a separate bowl, whisk together the 1/2 c of flour, baking powder, and salt.
Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Then stir in the flour mixture. With both steps, stir just long enough to fully combine the ingredients. Coat the remaining chocolate chips with the reserved 2 tbsp of flour and then add them to the batter. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, warm the caramel sauce until it’s a consistency that will allow for drizzling. Drizzle the caramel over the brownies (be generous!) and then sprinkle with sea salt, crushing the salt between your fingers a bit if there are very large flakes. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting.
In the past, I’ve made two different pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving: the fail-safe recipe that comes on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can and the crowd-pleasing candied pecan pumpkin pie recipe I’ve shared on the blog before. For both of these recipes, I’ve always used canned pumpkin, and doing so has always produced excellent results. I had heard that making your own pumpkin puree could have uneven results and it just didn’t seem worth the bother, especially since I have tasted too many pies made with homemade puree that were not good at all. (Side note: these terrible pies were always made by a special breed of foodie whose righteous fervor for whole,organic, locally sourced ingredients is inversely proportional to their ability to cook. Am I the only one who has encountered this kind of person before?)
I was talking to someone once about making pie for Thanksgiving and when I said that I used canned pumpkin, this person was overcome with a look that was some mix of betrayal and indignation that was so strong that I was convinced that they must think that I used a canned pumpkin pie filling. But no—they just couldn’t fathom that, as someone passionate about baking, I would deign to use canned pumpkin. Oy.
Last year was the first time I experimented with making a pie with fresh pumpkin. We bought a sugar pumpkin at the beginning of fall because our godson was obsessed with pumpkins. Basically, we bought a pumpkin just so we could watch him carry his tiny pumpkin around the apartment saying “da puh-kin” over and over. After a few weeks, Aidan suggested that we might actually use the pumpkin for something, so I roasted and pureed it following the instructions at Oh She Glows and then baked it into a pie using a Cooks Illustrated recipe that calls for cooking the pumpkin mixture down before baking the pie. The result turned out to be easily the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever made. At first, I just assumed that this was because I had used a different, better recipe. But when Thanksgiving rolled around, I made the same recipe with canned pumpkin and while it was really good, it lacked a certain something that kept it from being the kind of out-of-this-world pie that the first one was. I made this recipe again this year with fresh pumpkin and even though I was a teaspoon short on ground ginger, the pie was excellent.
And so, since then, my feelings about the canned vs. fresh pumpkin debate have been complicated. Fresh pumpkin can be a wonderful thing, but it’s not the only way to go and it’s not without it’s complications. Canned pumpkin make a really good pie. And what’s more, it’s reliable and does not involve the extra prep work and planning that making your own puree involves. Making your own puree isn’t difficult, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t kind of a PITA, especially if you’re in a high-stakes baking situation or juggling the preparation of lots of different dishes (hello, Thanksgiving).
But making a good puree depends on getting good pumpkins. You need the little ones that are called sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins. One of the aforementioned terrible pies was made by one of the aforementioned cooking-inept foodies who could recite the many virtues of spelt flour but did not understand that different varieties of pumpkins have different uses. Getting good pumpkins might also involve buying them earlier in the season, and possibly even processing them and freezing the puree ahead of time, to make sure that you aren’t left choosing from a selection of picked-over, dried-out, late-season pumpkins. (I’ll be honest—I bought a can of back-up pumpkin in case the pumpkin we bought this year turned out to be crappy.)
And finally, the biggest issue with fresh puree is that it tends to be more watery than canned puree, and the extra liquid will throw the proportions of your pie filling out of whack. After I pureed my pumpkin, I let it sit in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl for 30 minutes. At the end, I had roughly 2.5 cups of puree and nearly a cup of liquid that had drained away. Draining the pumpkin is often listed as an “optional, but recommended” step to making fresh puree. Looking at that cup of liquid, I’m not sure how optional it is if you want good results.
In addition to straining the puree to get rid of any excess liquid, cooking the pumpkin down a bit also helps improve the final texture of your pie. That’s one of many reasons why I really love this Cooks Illustrated recipe. While cooking the filling before baking involves some extra steps and dirties a pan, the result is a wonderfully smooth, rich texture. And while I’m kind of moony-eyed about how this pie turns out with fresh pumpkin, this recipe also works wonderfully with canned pumpkin. This pie has great flavor. If you compare the ingredients list to other pumpkin pie recipes, you might expect the amount of spice in this pie recipe to be overwhelming. It’s definitely well-spiced but it’s not too much—the spices just make a pumpkin pie that tastes truly decadent and rich. The original recipe uses a traditional pie crust, but I like to make pumpkin pie in a graham cracker crust. There are lots of benefits to a graham cracker crust: 1) it’s a delicious flavor compliment to the pie filling, 2) it’s quicker and less fussy than making a traditional crust, and 3) you can invite your favorite toddler over to share the leftover crackers and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and, in under an hour, you will have made a best friend for life.
I hope you had an excellent Thanksgiving with plenty of good pie!
Recipe notes: The recipe calls for using a food processor to mix the filling. Each time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve used my food processor with good results. If you don’t have a food processor, you could definitely use a blender, but I don’t see why you couldn’t also use an electric mixer. It might result in a slightly different texture, but I’d be surprised if it were a significant difference. The key thing would be to make sure that you have the mixer going as you start to pour the pumpkin mixture into the eggs so that you don’t scramble your eggs. This is easy enough if you have a stand mixer. If you only have a hand-held mixer, you probably want to enlist a kitchen helper.
In my experience, this recipe makes more filling than will actually fill a regular 9” pie plate. Last Thanksgiving, I increased the graham cracker crust recipe by 50% and made the pie in a spring form pan instead (as if I were making a cheesecake). This is a good route to go if you like a higher filling-to-crust ratio but it doesn’t look very traditional. You could also pick up a package of pre-made miniature graham cracker pie shells and fill them with your left overs. You could keep your mini-pies as a gift to yourself, but giving a kid their own personal mini pie is another way to make a fast friend. Of course, you would need to adjust the baking times accordingly for either of these options.
For the crust:
12 graham crackers (or 1.5 c of graham cracker crumbs)
5 tbsp butter
1/4 c granulated sugar
A pinch of salt (skip this if you use salted butter)
For the filling:
2 c of fresh pumpkin puree or 1 15 oz can of plain pumpkin
1 c dark brown sugar (packed)
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c heavy cream
2/3 c milk
4 large eggs
To make the crust, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Melt the butter and drizzle over the crumbs. Add in the sugar and salt, if using. Pulse the ingredients together until combined. Dump the mixture into a 9” pie plate and press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes.
When the crust is done baking, turn the oven up to 400 degrees F.
To make the filling, pulse the pumpkin, dark brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt together in a food processor for about a minute. Pour the pumpkin mixture into a medium sauce pan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the mixture starts sputtering, continue to cook for another five minutes, stirring constantly to keep the mixture from burning. The pumpkin mixture will be thick and shiny.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and milk. I do this in batches, adding half the cream, whisking to combine, adding the rest of the cream, whisking, and then repeating the process with the milk. Return the pumpkin mix to and heat it through, removing it from the heat as soon as it begins to simmer.
Pulse the eggs in the food processor to combine the whites and yolks. With the processor running, slowly pour about half of the pumpkin mixture into the eggs. (I transferred half of the pumpkin to a glass measuring cup for this step for more controlled pouring.) Stop the food processor and add the rest of the pumpkin mixture to the egg mixture. Pulse the filling until everything is mixed well.
Carefully pour the filling into your prepared crust, being careful not to overfill the crust. The pie will settle a bit while baking. After the pie has been in the oven for about 5 minutes, you can carefully ladle some of the excess filling into the pie.
Bake the pie at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes, until the filling is puffy and appears dry. The filling should still wiggle at the center if you gently shake the pie. Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack.
It took me a year to get around to posting about the Lemon Angel Food Cake that I made Aidan for his last birthday. This year, I’m really upping my game and posting about his birthday treat from this year a mere 10 days after the fact. I am on the ball.
This year, Aidan requested a peanut butter pie, which is significantly easier to make than last year’s angel food cake. Peanut butter pie is the kind of thing that is very accessible even for the non-baker. If you use a pre-made crust, then the only thing you need to do is mix together the ingredients for the filling and let the pie set—no baking required at all. The only important thing to remember when it comes to peanut butter pie is that you can’t use natural peanut butter. You have to use the super creamy, sweetened stuff that you’d spread on super soft white bread. We’re making dessert here.
The trickiest thing about making this particular recipe is that you make your own whipped cream to fold into the filling at the very end (just to make it a bit lighter in texture). But making whipped cream isn’t difficult—it just takes some time. You can make your life a little easier by chilling your bowl and beaters ahead of time and by making sure that your cream is nice and cold. Really, I highly recommend making your own whipped cream whenever you can, not because I am a whipped cream snob, but because it is a fantastic party trick. Based on my own carefully collected scientific data, pulling out homemade whipped cream to top whatever pie/cake/dessert-ish thing you’ve made for your friends will increase positive reactions and praise by a minimum of 83%. People will act like you are Julia Child come back to bless the people with the gift of good food. And all the while you (and your more whipped-cream savvy friends) will know that you just threw that shit in the mixer and let it go for a few minutes while you sipped a cup of coffee.
For the filling, I used a recipe from the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine because it was close by and seemed very similar to recipes I’ve used in the past. The original recipe calls for a graham cracker crust and for melting chocolate chips and spreading the melted chocolate on the bottom of the pie crust. At Aidan’s request, I substituted an Oreo crust and then decided to spread some fudge sauce on the bottom of the crust. Before serving the pie, I topped it with some chopped cocktail peanuts and drizzled some more fudge sauce over the top. The end result was excellent and very rich—a great way to celebrate the birth of my favorite person.
Peanut Butter Pie (adapted from Nov. 2013 issue of Food Network Magazine)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 jar of fudge sauce (not chocolate syrup)
1/4 c heavy cream
1 c creamy peanut butter (not natural peanut butter)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 c whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c confectioners’ sugar
Optional: Chopped cocktail peanuts for topping
To make the crust, preheat oven to 350F. Place Oreos in food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs and the cream filling has completely disappeared into the cookie crumbs. Melt the butter and drizzle over the cookie crumbs. Mix until the crumbs are evenly coated with butter. Dump the crumb mixture into a pie plate and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to evenly press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake for 6-7 minutes. Allow pie crust to cool on a wire rack.
Warm the fudge sauce up enough so that it has a spreadable consistency. Spread a thin layer of fudge sauce on the bottom of pie crust. Allow the pie crust to continue to cool as you make the filling.
Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. (This will be easier if the cream is very cold and the bowl and beaters are chilled ahead of time.) Place whipped cream in the refrigerator until you are ready to add it to the filling.
Beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, milk, and vanilla together until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar 1/4 c at a time and mix on low until incorporated after every addition.
Fold half of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until incorporated. Repeat with the second half of the whipped cream. Spoon the filling into the cooled pie crust, smooth the top of the pie, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set (at least 3 hours). Optional: Top pie with chopped peanuts and drizzle additional fudge sauce over the top of the pie before serving.
Last year for his birthday, Aidan requested an angel food cake. This wasn’t actually the first time he made the request, but I managed to talk him out of it in past years, partly because angel food cake seemed boring and bland to me and partly because I was kind of intimidated by the prospect of making the cake. As a rule, anything that involves beating egg whites to various states of stiffness makes me extremely nervous. When I’m dealing with egg whites, I feel like I’m constantly standing on the edge of failure, and I am not a thrill-seeker. Still, Aidan was pretty insistent about angel food being the only kind of cake he wanted, so I got to work.
My first big decision involved buying a pan, which proved to be more complicated than I would have liked. See, angel food is one of those things that bakers seem to have very strong opinions about. And by strong, I mean that there are many angel food enthusiasts who have very specific ideas about the equipment and process one should use to make angel food and who are equally certain that deviating from these methods will result in a really crappy cake. The strongest of this contingent’s opinions revolve around the choice of a pan and the consensus seems to be that the ideal pan should be non-stick, slightly abused/well-loved from years of use, and have a releasable bottom. Basically, if you spend enough time reading about angel food cake best-practices, you will probably walk away from your research feeling like if you haven’t been fortunate enough to inherit a pan from your great-grandmother, you’re screwed.
The argument behind this ideal pan is that an abrasive surface on the sides of the pan will allow the cake to “climb” higher while baking, resulting in a lofty cake and tender crumb. This makes good sense to me, but the material reality of the situation was that the only pan I could find locally was a non-stick, single-piece tube pan. I thought pretty seriously about ordering a more ideal pan for upwards of $40 and then remembered that I am a broke grad student. So I decided that my cake would have to be motivated enough to climb non-stick pan walls. Having a releasable bottom still would have been preferable, but in lieu of that feature, I put a piece of buttered parchment paper at the bottom of the pan. (I can’t locate an exact source, but I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart told me this was an acceptable thing to do.) Once I ran a knife around the edges of the cooled cake, the parchment paper allowed the cake to slide right out of the pan without and problems and the finished cake seemed plenty lofty and light.
My second big decision was to use Ina Garten’s Lemon Angel Food Cake recipe because I generally trust Ina in high-stakes baking situations. The recipe was a very, very good decision and I would highly recommend it. The cake gets it’s lemony flavor from the addition of lemon zest, but I think you could just leave the zest out for a very good traditional angel food cake. Because I was nervous about the cake turning out, I was especially meticulous about following the recipe instructions. If it said to sift something together over and over, I did it. If it said to add something in half-cup increments, you better believe I measured that shit. If it said to beat something for a minute, I timed it. I don’t actually have a sifter, so I sifted everything by passing it through a fine-mesh strainer, which worked out really well. I’m not kidding when I say dealing with egg whites makes me nervous. But my care was rewarded. The resulting cake was awesome. The crumb was just right and the cake had great flavor—I couldn’t believe that I remembered angel food cake as boring and bland. Most importantly, Aidan was pleased. We ended up sharing this cake with four other friends and it received rave reviews from each one.
I also made up a lemon honey yogurt sauce from this Giada de Laurentis recipe to go with the cake—I left it on the side and let people add it if they wanted it. Honestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the sauce. The sauce itself was perfectly good but it reminded me of something you might put on top of pancakes or waffles, and I really didn’t think the cake needed anything else. However, everyone else (including Aidan) really liked the sauce and eagerly drizzled it over their cake slices. So when I make this again, I’d probably consider making the sauce as well to have on hand as an option for people.
1 1/2 c egg whites (10 to 12 eggs), at room temperature
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
Sift 1/2 c of the sugar together with the flour. Sift the mixture 3 more times.
Beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in an electric mixer using a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until medium-firm peaks form. Reduce mixer speed to medium and add remaining 1 1/2 c of sugar by sprinkling it over the egg whites. Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and shiny. Add in vanilla and lemon zest and continue whisking for another minute or so until the mixture is very thick.
Sift a quarter of the flour mixture over the egg white mixture and use a rubber spatula to fold it into the mixture. Continue this process, adding a fourth of the mixture each time, until the flour mixture has been completely incorporated.
Pour the batter evenly into a 10” tube pan (ungreased) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It will spring back to the touch when finished baking. Take it out of the oven and invert the cake pan on a cooling rack until completely cool. When cool, gently run a knife around the edge of the cake to help release it from the pan.
I am pretty much a baking traditionalist. I like classic flavor combinations, and I like classic desserts. And what’s more, I was raised in the Midwest and so my definition of what constitutes “classic” is largely determined by my Midwestern sensibilities. I’m wary of baking fads (I’m giving you the side-eye, cake pops), and I don’t like dessert hybrids. I love cheesecake, and I love a good red velvet cake, but red velvet cheesecake seems like the kind of thing that would make me wish I was eating my standard cheesecake recipe. I don’t like overly complicated recipes that call for ingredients I wouldn’t normally keep on hand. And I just can’t get behind recipes that involve baking mixes. I mean, if you’re already going beyond simply adding oil and eggs to the mix, then why not just make the whole thing from scratch?
I am guided by two primary goals as a baker: 1) to build up a library of recipes for really great, classic baked goods like chocolate chip cookies and bagels; and 2) to continually focus on improving my technique so that I can do things like make a really good loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread (my current project) or consistently whip up a really good all-butter pie crust. These goals mean that I am content to make the same things over and over and over again without feeling compelled to try something new or raise the bar. That’s kind of boring. These goals also make me a mite snobbish (see comment above about baking mixes). So it goes. The point is that when I acknowledge and stay true to these goals rather than worrying that I should try making marshmallows like all the other cool kids, I enjoy my time in the kitchen more and am generally more pleased with the results of my work.
Of course, all this is a long-winded way of saying: Baker, know thyself. Think about what you like to make and why, and let that guide your baking projects. And also, maybe try weaning yourself off of baking mixes if you haven’t already. Or at least don’t do that weird thing where people mix them with things like black beans or Diet Coke. Because, ew. There’s just no reason for that.
This chocolate (cup)cake recipe is one of my go-to recipes, and it gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it. When I eat these cupcakes, I think of the scene in Matilda where the evil headmistress punishes a kid by making him eat a gigantic, insanely rich chocolate cake. I am almost certain this was the recipe used to make that cake. These cupcakes have a wonderfully tender, sticky crumb and the chocolate ganache frosting spread on top makes them out of this world. My theory is that what makes this cake really excellent is the coffee incorporated into the batter. Much like the chocolate stout cake I’ve made before, I think the presence of a bitter agent in the batter helps bring out some of the deeper notes in the chocolate flavor, which balances the sweetness of the cake nicely.
I decorated these particular cupcakes to look vaguely record-ish because they were for a birthday party where our friend was showing off his new turntable and tube amp, letting people share their favorite records all night. Since the chocolate ganache frosting is naturally a dark brown, it was relatively easy to turn it black with some black food dye. Using my signature low-tech decorating techniques, I spread the frosting on, ran the tines of a fork around the cupcake to create the record grooves and then slapped one of those candy melt wafers flat-side up for a record label. I piped a dab of the ganache in the middle of the candy melt and Bam!: vaguely record-ish cupcakes.
Notes: My major adaptation to this recipe is, obviously, to use it to make cupcakes. If you want to make a layer cake, double the frosting recipe and refer to the original recipe (linked above) for baking times. I’ve tried filling these cupcakes in the past, but wouldn’t recommend it since the cake isn’t firm enough to stand up well to the filling process. I would also highly recommend making these a day in advance since the texture and flavor of chocolate cake significantly improves with an overnight rest.
For Ganache Frosting (simply spread onto the top of the cupcakes, this will make enough to frost the entire batch. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes to pipe on a generous little mound of frosting, you’ll want to double the recipe)
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I’d recommend using something a little on the nicer side)
1/2 c heavy cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp light corn syrup
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Make the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a muffin tin with baking cups.
Finely chop the chocolate and then combine in a bowl with the coffee. Let the mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In another large bowl, beat the eggs until they are slightly thickened and lemon-colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer, and a bit longer with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla and melted chocolate/coffee mixture to the eggs, beating until combined after every addition.
Add the sugar mixture and beat on medium until just combined.
Fill the baking cups 2/3 full with batter and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
Make the frosting:
Finely chop the chocolate.
In a small saucepan, bring the cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted.
Cut the butter into pieces and add to the frosting, whisking until smooth.
Transfer the frosting to a bowl and allow it to cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. You can speed the process up by putting the bowl in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, although you’ll want to check on it every once in awhile, stirring to make sure its cooling evenly and making sure that it doesn’t become too firm.
Somehow, I’ve already finished two weeks of the new semester and even collected the first assignment from my students. I have a calendar full of meetings and reminders and plenty to keep me busy. Being on an academic calendar is weird because it means adjusting your schedule every few months, but I think I’ve finally made it through this adjustment period. The biggest change this semester is that I’m no longer taking classes. After 20+ years of class after class after class, I’m done (unless I have a temporary lapse in sanity and decide to take another).
Not being in class anymore is incredible. Incredible. I’ve suddenly gained a lot more control over my schedule and routine and I’m not generating to-do lists from cross-listing several syllabi. My work is more focused since I’ve now just got a couple of big projects on the horizon. I’m getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night. I’m not too tired to make dinner. My stress-related jaw pain has disappeared. I get to look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas time because I’m not haunted by the terror of finals week. I feel more even and balanced. I feel like a real person.
The most exciting part is that I get the chance to break a lot of the bad work habits that I developed while taking classes. Like pulling all nighters. Or writing papers in one exhausting slog 2-3 day slog. Or expecting myself to be working all the time, feeling demoralized by the thought, and then getting little to nothing done as a result. Also, drinking too much caffeine and not eating often enough and then developing massive headaches. I made a fancy little work schedule for myself where I’ve blocked out spaces of time for discreet tasks like writing, reading, and teaching prep. I’ve tried to realistically appraise my life and made my schedule keeping in mind that I am unlikely to continue doing the same thing for more than two hours at a time, that I won’t get anything done past 8:00 (which sounds late, but is more like my version of 5:00p since I am a night owl), and that I won’t get up any earlier than 9:00a. So far, the schedule seems to be working. I’m writing in the mornings five days a week–I started with 30 minute sessions and am slowly working myself up to 2 hours. I haven’t had the stress of trying to whip up last-minute class plans. I’m continually surprising myself with how much I can get done when I set a finite work time. I’m actually enjoying work.
And the best part is that I have plenty of time for baking and knitting and Netflix watching and novel reading and blog writing. Not that I wasn’t doing those things before, but now I’m not weighed down by the guilt of feeling like I should be doing something else. I much prefer it this way.
I made this cake for a beginning-of-the-semester department potluck. At one point in it’s life, it was an entire bundt cake but this is the only piece that made it back home with me. I take that as a sign that it was well-received. Oh, and someone told me it may have been the best chocolate cake they’d had. So I’m definitely marking this recipe a success.
As the name of the recipe suggests, this cake is made with a stout–I used Guinness–and I figured any cake made with beer would be a big hit with academics. The cake isn’t overly sweet but instead has a rich and nutty chocolately flavor. It’s also has a ridiculously moist crumb and the ganache on top is flavored with instant espresso, sending the whole thing over the top on deliciousness. The only tricky part is getting the cake out of the bundt pan. Grease that pan like you’ve never greased a pan before. And if the top of the cake still gets stuck to the bottom of the pan, scoop out the stuck cake bits, mound them up on the top of the cake, and then artfully drizzle your ganache to cover the imperfection. That’s what I did.
3/4 c Dutch-process cocoa powder (I’ve been using Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in place of Dutch-process)
2 c all purpose flour
2 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 c sour cream
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 tbsp heavy cream
3/4 tsp instant coffee (I substituted 1/2 tsp instant espresso because it was what I had on hand)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a bundt pan really, really well.
Bring the stout and butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Allow the mixture to cool while you prepare the rest of the cake batter.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
Beat the eggs and sour cream together in another bowl. Slowly beat in the stout/butter/chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed, using a spatula to fold in the rest of the flour mixture if necessary.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before inverting the cake onto a plate to remove it from the pan.
For the ganache, melt the chocolate chips, heavy cream, and instant coffee or espresso granules together over low heat, whisking until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cake.
It was 92° today, which set a new record high for the date in our area. Gross. I am not a huge fan of summer and this kind of heat is precisely why. The heat itself is bad enough, but living in a second-story apartment with sky lights in every room with no AC is disgusting and it makes me hateful. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that this isn’t an indication of how the rest of the season is going to play out. Still, now is probably as good a time as any to start digging up recipes that don’t involve the oven. I think this may be a good summer to invest in a set of popsicle molds so I can make these Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles. Yum. And cold.
Anyway. We spent Memorial Day with friends, grilling out but eating inside to enjoy the air conditioning. I decided to make a pie, because pie seems like the kind of thing you’re supposed to eat on summer holidays. My original plan was to make a strawberry rhubarb pie, but when I went to the store, they were out of rhubarb. They were also out of Corona. It was a trip of frustrations. But never mind, I reevaluated my plans, grabbed a bag of sweet cherries and a pint of raspberries and decided to throw them together. The decision to throw in the raspberries was born mostly out of the fact that a single bag of cherries wouldn’t have been enough to fill a pie, and a pint of raspberries were significantly cheaper than a second bag of cherries. I had misgivings when I got home. I was worried that the fruit wasn’t flavorful enough, that I should have kept it simple and only stuck with one kind of fruit, and finally that it was all going to be a soupy mess.
Luckily, none of my fears came to pass. You can see that part of the crust collapsed while baking, but beyond that the pie was great. For the first time in a long time, I felt like my crust was rockin’ in flavor and texture. I used the same all-butter crust recipe I’ve been using since I started this blog, but this time I added the butter in one stick at a time, which made it easier to cut into the flour and seemed to help in bringing the dough together. (I picked this trick up from my King Arthur Flour cookbook.) For the filling, I used this Sweet Cherry Pie recipe–substituting, of course, part of the cherries for about two cups of raspberries. The raspberries gave the filling a nice tartness that didn’t overwhelm the cherries, but kept the filling from being overly sweet. I’ve been wary of the idea of sour cherry pie, having some unpleasant memories of sour cherries from my childhood, but now I think I need to try it out. Also, this is the first time that I’ve made a lattice top pie (way easier than I expected) and used an egg wash on the pie lid (totally sold–the result is beautiful). We enjoyed the pie with some homemade whipped cream. It was a good day.
Basically, I wish that everything I tried my hand at turned out as well as this pie. Also, I wish we had central air. Oh well.
Note: The above link is for the original pie filling recipe. For the crust, I also used Deb’s all butter pie crust recipe, which can be found here along with a great set of step-by-step pictorial instructions. If you’re new to making pie crust, definitely check out her post. It’s been a huge help to me, although you might want to try cutting the butter into the flour one stick at a time. I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I just pitted the cherries with my hands. But I followed the advice offered in one of Deb’s comments and pitted the cherries inside of a gallon-size ziploc bag. It helped contain the mess in a big, big way.
1 double pie crust
2 c pitted sweet cherries
2 c raspberries
3/4 c sugar
4 tbsp corn starch
1/8 tsp salt
Juice from half a lemon
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into small bits
1 egg beaten with 2 tsp cold water for egg wash, optional
Combine the fruit, sugar, corn starch, salt, lemon juice and almond extract in a large bowl. Stir until well combined.
Roll out the dough for the bottom crust, creating a 13″ round. Line your pie plate with the rolled out crust, and trim the sides to leave a half inch overhang.
Use a spoon to spread the fruit mixture into the pie shell, leaving behind most of the liquid that has developed at the bottom of the bowl. Dot the filling with the bits of cold butter.
Roll out the pie lid and lay it over the pie plate (or cut strips from the dough round and create a lattice top). Trim the sides of the dough and use your fingers or a fork to seal and crimp the edges. Cut slits (for steam vents) in the pie lid and brush the pie lid with the egg wash, if using.
Bake at 400° for 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes. Allow pie to cool completely on a wire rack.
I had a realization this week that has totally thrown me for a loop: I am not a goal-oriented person.
God help me if I am ever driven to find a job in corporate America. I am also disorganized, an anti-people person, and do not own a skirt suit. I totally would not make the cut.
The eagerness with which I set goals for myself is a testament to how deeply I’ve internalized the idea that being goal-oriented is a key part of being a good, hard-working person. This was my to-do list for Saturday. I make lists like this all the freaking time. The text in the picture is backwards, but all that matters is that there are nine items on said list and only two of them are crossed off. One of those two items was to rid my inbox of this semester’s email clutter, and that task took all of ten minutes to complete, which is really the only reason it got done. At the beginning of this year, I wrote a post about my distaste for New Year’s resolutions and set five year-long goals for myself instead. Of the five, I’ve actually started on one–I’m half way through book two of ten in the Vampire Chronicles and pretty damn sure they won’t all get read before the year ends. And before that, I set a goal ten things I wanted to bake over winter break. I finished three.
These are just a couple of examples of years and years of setting and then failing to achieve goals. And every time I recycle one of those unfinished to-do lists, I feel a slight pang of guilt. But mostly I feel like it doesn’t matter. And then I feel a little guilty because I worry I should feel like it matters. But then I come back around to feeling like it really, truly doesn’t matter. It’s an exhausting cycle.
I recently recognized that external motivators–deadlines, rewards, expectations, etc.–simply don’t motivate me. External motivators make me feel like a cartoon dog chasing after a sausage dangling from a stick. I am ornery. I do not need to be given sausage, and I would rather just walk when and if I feel like it. For me, goals are a kind of external motivation. The point is to set milestones that mark some kind of progress or to establish an endpoint where you can feel like you’ve accomplished something. There is supposed to be satisfaction that comes from reaching the end, from achieving the goal. Except that I could give a shit about milestones and endpoints. (Case in point: I have a high school diploma and two higher ed degrees and I have never walked in a graduation ceremony. Sounds boring.) When I think about it, it’s really not surprising that the things I like to do–knitting, baking, writing–all involve an intense focus on the process of actually bringing something into form. There is never joy in the end product unless there was also joy in the process.
I’ve been thinking about all of this because the semester is over, and the summer is now laid out before me and waiting to be planned. But more than that, I’ve finished coursework–the most structured part of my degree program–and am now moving on to tasks that require that I work more independently. On the one hand, I am excited about the way that my time is becoming more my own since structure does not seem to suit me. But at the same time, I’m finding myself a little anxious about continuing to make progress and not just falling into the habit of waking up every morning and facebooking until my eyes bleed. Intellectually, I feel confident in my ability to the work that I need to do. But that nagging anxiety persists, and my first instinct is to try to quell it with goal-setting.
In the past week, I’ve set about a bazillion goals for myself: bake bread every weekend, knit a cardigan every month, teach myself to sew and then make 5 (or maybe 7? 10?) garments before the end of summer, practice yoga four times a week, figure out how to make the best possible iced tea yesterday. It all makes a girl feel a bit manic, you know? And the kicker is that none of these goals actually address the root of my anxiety.
Luckily, my second realization offered some calm. Writing, especially for school, stresses me out, and I’ve said over and over that I wish I could approach writing like I approach baking–with a general sense of fearlessness and appreciation for the process, no matter how tedious. I’m still working on getting there, but I’m also realizing that there may be a two-way relationship in which the way I approach writing might help me reign in the manic goal-making my crafting and baking efforts seem to spur on. When I write, I go through a drawn-out period of trying to think through things–you can call it invention, you can call it pre-writing, you can call it fucking around. Whatever. In this process I do some reading and some research. But more importantly, I find myself jotting down ideas and making lists of concepts or points on little slips of paper that I squirrel away and usually never dig up again. (See earlier comment about being disorganized.) Losing those little slips of paper doesn’t matter so much because I’m not actually capturing things that must go into whatever it is that I am working on. I’m not making a to-do list of writing tasks to accomplish and ideas to cover. What I’m doing is blowing the whole project up like a balloon, expanding it’s dimensions until it seems damn near impossible. The impossible, bloated version of the project is never meant to be the final vision–it’s really just an opportunity to recognize and capture the various dimensions and the various possibilities that a given project could take on. And that’s why just before it all explodes (and usually just as a deadline is whizzing by) I figure out what it is that I really want to talk about, what I really want to explore, what I really want to do. And then it’s on. So all of that list making I’ve been doing–the twelve cardigans I want to make, the bread recipes I want to give a run–aren’t meant to be a project in their own right, but rather a moment of trying to recognize the possibilities and figure out where I want to go from here.
I’m frankly not sure what these realizations amount to, although my sense is that they might be helpful in my ongoing struggle to cobble together a way of working that works (for lack of a better word) for me. Oh, and I should really stop setting goals and find some other way to use up those post-its.
In lieu of more definitive conclusions, I offer you this peanut butter fudge recipe, which was one of the three winter break recipes I managed to make and which has still not been blogged five months later. This recipe is ridiculously easy to make (no candy thermometer required!) and So. Damn. Good. You could make it without the ganache, but it’s hard to imagine turning down the peanut butter chocolate combo. Either way, it’s delicious and simple, unlike my relationship with goals.
Chocolate Glazed Peanut Butter Fudge (Adapted from Sweet Anna at Tasty Kitchen)
1 c granulated sugar
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c milk
5 large marshmallows
1 1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c heavy cream
1 c chocolate chips
Line an 8×8 pan with tin foil and grease the foil.
In a saucepan, stir together the sugars, milk, and marshmallows. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and stir until sugars are dissolved and marshmallows are completely melted.
Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan, and allow it to cool completely.
For ganache, heat the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate chips in a small bowl and allow it to sit for a minute or two. Stir the mixture until smooth. Spread ganache evenly over cooled fudge.
Refrigerate fudge for at least two hours. Using the edges of the foil, pull the fudge out of the pan and onto a cutting board and cut into 1″ pieces. Store fudge in an airtight container for up to a week (if it lasts that long).
I’m currently in the process of remixing this song. I will call my version “Fell in Love with a Cookie.” The Chewy, more specifically. I fell in love with the perfect chewy chocolate chip cookie.
We don’t have cable, but a while back I had the good fortune of stumbling on an internet conversation about an episode of Good Eats where, true to his food science nerdery, Alton Brown broke down the secret to achieving the perfectly textured chocolate chip cookie for your preferences–either thin, puffy, or chewy. Brilliant. I’ve talked about my preference for chewy cookies before, so you know I had to try his chewy recipe out. And I’m so glad I did.
I used to make cookies all the time–for a long time, they were pretty much the beginning and end of my baking repertoire. While I was in college, I would watch my youngest sister Sarah (who was 2 or 3 at the time) every Friday, and we would almost always make cookies together. (We would also do other things like wash the dishes together where she would inevitably dump water all over herself so she could wear one of my shirts and use the coin-operated dryer at the end of the building. Or play make-believe games where Sarah insisted on being ‘the mom’ or ‘the teacher’ so she could boss me around. I tell you, this kid was born with attitude in spades.) Sarah was an active kitchen helper and always got frustrated when I wouldn’t let her crack the eggs into the bowl. She’d put one hand on her hip, try to grab at the eggs with the other and yell, “I can do it by my own!” The one time she did manage to grab the eggs from me, she dropped them on the floor and then immediately looked at me and said, “It’s your fault.”
Anyway, when I started grad school, I had some kind of cookie amnesia where I seemed to lose track of all my good cookie recipes. I lost the cookie touch. And then when I started baking more seriously, the cookies I made just seemed to pale in comparison to other more delicious items I was making. Cookie recipes are a dime a dozen, and it seems like a lot of them yield good, not great, cookies. Good is not really good enough for me. I had just resolved to start a hunt for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe when Alton Brown’s recipe appeared before my eyes and the search ended before it had even begun. I’ve made this recipe three times in the past month and even Aidan has jumped in to help with the cookie making–this is how serious we are in our love for these cookies.
There are a couple of things that make this recipe distinct from your run-of-the-mill, back-of-the-chips-bag cookie recipe. First, the call for bread flour, which has a higher gluten content to increase the “chewy” factor. (Incidentally, Brown also did a show focused on substitutions where he featured a gluten-free version of The Chewy.) Rather than the 1-1 ratio of brown sugar to granulated sugar that appears in most chocolate cookie recipes, this recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar to only a 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, which results in a richer flavor. The first step of the recipe also calls for melting the butter rather merely softening it and then directs you to chill the dough before baking. And besides yielding truly delicious cookies, it’s the butter content that makes me love this recipe even more–the fact that you can get truly chewy cookie with an all-butter cookie recipe is heartening. Keep your shortening! I don’t want it.
Have any GREAT, not good, cookie recipes to share?
The original recipe says it yields 2 1/2 dozen cookies, but Aidan and I have been using an ice cream scoop to make really big cookies. With an ice cream scoop, we get more like 16-18 huge cookies. The original recipe also lists the bake time as 14 minutes, which I’ve found too long. 11-12 minutes is more like it in my experience.
2 sticks (1 c) unsalted butter
2 1/4 c bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 c sugar
1 1/4 c brown sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 bag chocolate chips
Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan over low heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
Using an electric mixer, cream together the melted butter and the sugars. (It takes a bit longer than you might expect to incorporate all the liquid from the melted butter. It will look a lot like caramel when you’re done.) Add in the egg and egg yolk, the milk, and the vanilla, beating until well incorporated.
Gradually add in the dry ingredients, mixing until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and scoop 6 cookies onto the pan. Bake the cookies for 11-12 minutes (see the note above). Allow them to cool on the pan for a minute before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.