Cherry Jam Tart Tuesday, Jun 8 2010 

I have a real problem making cherry desserts.  It’s not that I don’t like cherries; quite the opposite, actually.  I love cherries.  I love them so much that I can, will, and do eat an entire three-pound bag in mere days.  I look forward to the sweet, ruby little gems every summer, and I react as if someone’s baked me a cake whenever they’re brought home from the grocery store.  I love them just that much.  So why do I hesitate to bake them into buttery pie crusts and tart shells?  Why do I balk at the thought of pitting a bag of those beauties and making cherry vanilla ice cream?

Because they’re too delicious. I literally refuse to waste their limited-time bounty on a pie.  They just don’t need it!  At the peak of their season, deeply red and oh-so juicy, why would I bother burying them under butter and crust and unnecessary sugar?  I wouldn’t.  I won’t.

Which is why desserts like this are so crucial to me – while I adore cherry-flavored anything almost as much as the cherries themselves, I don’t feel guilty baking and sharing a dessert centered around a jar of cherry jam.  Would this be better with homemade cherry jam?  Cherry jam you pitted, boiled, and canned yourself?  Probably.  Was it delicious as-is, with a jar of store-bought jam and an impossible-to-screw-up crust? Absolutely.  And best of all, I personally harmed no cherries in the making of this tart.

Cherry Jam Tart

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

In my continued efforts to screw things up really badly to make sure they’ll stand up to the “oops” moves of others, I added the butter and sugar to the rest of the dry ingredients instead creaming them together independently.  Unwilling to let it go and start dough over at 9pm on a weeknight (what I was doing baking at that point anyway is really beyond me), I just crossed my fingers and mixed feverishly until dough materialized.  I’m sure there are all kinds of technical reasons why this is badbadbad, and I don’t advise you to replicate my mistake, but all’s well that ends well, and this one ended pretty freaking well.

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup polenta

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

8 tbsp butter, cut in one-inch cubes and at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1 10-ounce jar of cherry jam

Extra sugar, for sprinkling

1 egg white

Combine flour, baking powder, polenta/cornmeal, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a larger, separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and pale yellow.  Add eggs (not the egg white) and vanilla and beat to combine.  Add the flour to the wet ingredients slowly, just until the dough comes together.

Separate 1/3 of the dough, and roll it into a log.  Wrap well in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least an hour (I left mine for two days before I cooked it and it worked out fine).  Form a ball with rest of the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until you’re ready to make the tart.

When you’re ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a tart pan (I don’t have one – I used a pie pan).  Press the larger ball of dough evenly into the bottom of the pan (I rolled mine out, which was also, evidently, wrong, but that seems to be the theme of this post. It worked fine, and any breaks in the dough can just be pressed back together if you opt for my screwy version. Also, I was supposed to refrigerate the dough-lined pan at this point, and I didn’t do that either.). Spread jam evenly over the top of the crust.  Remove the dough log from the fridge and cut very thin disks using a sharp knife.  If the dough becomes too soft to do this, feel free to pop it back in the fridge until it firms up, then resume cutting.  Lay the circles over the jam in concentric circles until the entire top is covered.  Brush the top with the final egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the top crust is golden brown, 20 – 25 minutes. Cool completely before eating.

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Strawberry Buttermilk Cake Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

I feel like I say this kind of a lot, but it’s been a crazy few weeks.  Not only has everyone I know turned one year older, I’ve also driven to Boston and Baltimore in the last two weeks, attended an all-day concert, and, you know, worked occasionally.  As if it hasn’t been busy enough around here, Boyfriend also got some pretty great news recently that has resulted in a group effort to move him from Boston to Baltimore in under two weeks.  So this weekend, instead of the leisurely weekend of relaxing at a bed and breakfast in PA to celebrate our anniversary, we’ll be packing up his life (for the second time in under a year), and moving it down to Maryland.  We’ll also be watching the NCAA National Lacrosse Championships live from some great seats, which is the Memorial Day activity Boyfriend has been hoping to have for several years.

But all this pack-up-and-move, find-him-an-apartment, drive-up-and-down-the-East-Coast thing is sort of taking a toll on my culinary adventures.  I can barely get in the time to sleep, let alone cook, bake, or write, and the sugar high I’m on after a month of birthday cakes has yet to subside.  But of course there were more celebrations to be had, including perhaps the most interesting yet – a non-dessert eater.

How anyone manages to get through life without the occasional bite of chocolate or bowl of ice cream is certainly beyond me, but the birthday girl eats neither.  She also, of course, doesn’t eat cake, but what is a birthday without cake!? Instead, she routinely requests an apple bread (we’ll talk about that later) that, while delicious, is by no means a celebratory affair.  I know it’s her birthday and she can celebrate however she sees fit, I just can’t handle missing the opportunity for a cake.

I did manage to exercise a bit of restraint though.  I didn’t bake a layer cake, and I didn’t make any buttercream.  In fact, baked into a loaf pan, this might just be mistaken for a sweet bread with a soft, moist little crumb.   But it’s not, and do you know why it’s not?  Because it was her birthday.  And on birthdays, we eat cake.

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake with Orange Glaze

Adapted from Gourmet, the late, great love of my life 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 tbsp salted butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup strawberries, thinly sliced

Zest and juice of one orange

1/2 – 1 cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.  Lay half of the strawberries flat on the bottom of the pan in a single layer.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  In a separate, large bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then add vanilla and egg.  Beat until combined.  Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour.

Once the batter is combined, pour it into the pan on top of the strawberries.  Lay the other half of the strawberries flat on top of the cake.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The cake will be quite brown.  Cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then invert onto a plate.

To make glaze, whisk confectioner’s sugar into orange zest and juice until it achieves the right consistency and a milky, soft orange color.  Pour over cake slices just before serving (it’ll soak into the cake – which may not be a bad thing…)

White Chocolate Coconut Rum Cake Monday, May 17 2010 

I may have mentioned before that I’m really, really, horrifically bad at remembering birthdays – it’s the number one reason I keep an up-to-date calendar, and even that isn’t foolproof.

And May is The Month of Birthdays.  Literally every weekend (and several week nights) is dominated by cake, ice cream, and presents.  I can’t even estimate the amount of icing I eat in May, but suffice to say it’s too much.  So I suppose I should’ve expected to screw something up sooner or later, but I may have really picked the wrong birthday to skip.

It goes without saying that Boyfriend and I work hard to see each other at least once a month.  Since we haven’t seen one another since early April, the ideal time for me to head up to Boston would’ve been the very first weekend in May – only my cousin was turning 21 and I was otherwise occupied screwing up cupcakes and taking birthday shots with her.  Mother’s Day weekend?  His parents were visiting.  Which brings us to last weekend, when I finally got to make the trip…much to Cousin’s dismay, since she turned 25 while I was in Boston. Obviously, I’m the worst cousin in the whole world.

To chip away at the years of penance I’ll certainly have to do to make up for my stupidity, I had to at least bake a cake for her.  And what was her reaction to the two-layer white chocolate coconut rum cake I presented her with?

“Um, you know I don’t like coconut, right?”

The hole I’m in just keeps getting bigger.

White Chocolate Coconut Rum Cake

I found these layers ridiculously flat – either my baking soda/powder is dead, or I lost something in the merging of too many recipes and ideas to count. Regardless of its teeny little proportions, it was delicious – moist, sweet, and just enough like coconut rum to remind Cousin that while she doesn’t like shredded coconut, she definitely likes the kind that can give you a good buzz.

For the Cake

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter

2 eggs

2 tbsp white rum (+ 1 tbsp extra for brushing onto cake)

1 1/2 cup flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup milk

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease two 8-inch cake pans.  Cream butter and sugar together in a medium bowl until pale yellow and creamy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stir in rum.

In a separate bowl, mix flour and baking powder together.  Slowly add to the wet ingredients, beating until incorporated.  Add milk and beat until smooth.

Pour into prepared pans and cook for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

When the cake has cooled, poke holes all over cake with a toothpick and brush it evenly with a mixture of 1 tbsp rum, 1 tbsp vanilla extract, and 2 tbsp water.

For the Icing

1 3.5-ounce coconut white chocolate bar (I literally used this only because the store I was at had no other white chocolate; I imagine a regular white chocolate bar – or even white chocolate chips – and a bit of coconut extract or coconut rum would work in place of this)

1 ½ sticks butter, softened

4 tbsp milk or cream

1 ½ cups confectioners sugar

In a double-boiler over medium heat, melt the chocolate bar with the milk/cream.  Once the bar is completely melted, let the mixture cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter until creamy.  Add sugar to butter and beat until combined.  Add chocolate, and beat until combined and creamy.

To assemble

If you’ve opted to freeze the cake, defrost it before assembly.  Line a cake plate with parchment paper, and place the first layer in the center of the plate.  Use roughly 1/3 of the icing to cover the top of the base layer.  Lay the second layer on top of the iced bottom layer.  Use the rest of the icing to cover the cake.

Lime Layer Cake Saturday, May 8 2010 

I have an oddly high amount of amusing Disney World stories.  It’s not as if my family vacations there every year and I have 24 years of material – it’s just that weird shit happens to us there.  I mean, weird shit happens to us a everywhere, but especially in Disney.

There was the time I got bronchitis there and we had to take a cab to the doctor and explain to him that this was, in fact, a fairly normal occurrence for me and that his best course of action was to prescribe drug XYZ so that I could breathe without hacking up my left lung.  Which was not so much weird as entirely, pathetically, predictable given that I got bronchitis like clockwork at the same time every year well into my teenage years.  Also, our cab driver brought my poor, sick little self a Minnie Mouse doll and didn’t even flinch when I unceremoniously coughed all over God’s green earth and every inch of his cab to and from the clinic.  Bless his heart.

Then there was the petting zoo.  Because I was that kid at an early age (24 years and counting, baby!), I insisted on constantly wearing dresses.  My mother weathered many an incredulous across-the-playground stare from other mothers when her daughter insisted on climbing trees in her ballet tutu and patent leather shoes.  I actually still have a scar on my knee from falling off of my scooter while wearing that exact outfit.  Because of course I do.  And in case you were wondering, no, I did not take dance for more than one month (which was the amount of time it took my family to unanimously decide that I’m quite possibly the least graceful person any of us has ever met) as a child. Anyway.  The petting zoo.  I was obviously wearing a sundress, and it was obviously beautiful, and the goat obviously shared my opinion on its splendor, because he started to eat it.  That’s right: the goat I was politely petting reached his bigass, dirty buck teeth right through the wooden fence and started munching on my dress.  And there I am, confused, because my sundress is literally disappearing before my very eyes and I’m wondering if perhaps the goat is going to decide that maybe he wants to try something a little meatier, like, you know, my leg.  How am I recalling this event with such clarity?  Well, clearly we have it on video.  I assure you that within moments of this entry posting I will receive a phone call from Boyfriend requesting this video be brought to Boston for his viewing pleasure when I visit next week.  The joys of my childhood and 21st century technology, people.

And finally, during my last time at Disney, my freshman year of high school, there was Epcot.  My family loves Epcot.  We may never get back there because we have this crazy life goal of working our way through freaking Europe, but I think that actually has a lot to do with our love of Epcot and its worldliness.  We were (in typical fashion) eating our way through the Epcot countries and Dad got a piece of pie.  Because these were my picky-eater days and I am an idiot, I didn’t know what kind of pie it was.  Nor did I look when he offered me a bite.  Nor did I ever think to ask what kind it was, beyond uttering the phrase “is there meat in this?” immediately after swallowing it…which made my parents dissolve into incoherent laughter, as it was key lime pie.  And as you’re probably aware, there is no meat in key lime pie.  Ever.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard that last story.  Suffice it to say that it’s been repeated once or twice.  And I have no doubt I’ll be enduring it even more than usual in the common week for two reasons: a) because I stupidly decided to post about it on my blog, for godssakes, and b) because for his birthday my Dad requested a “lime cake…with no meat, please.”

Obviously.  Because didn’t I walk right into that one?

Lime Layer Cake

This is not a cake for the faint of heart – it’s really lime-y.  Dad loved it, because he loves lime.  I actually thought it was really good combination of curd, cake, and icing, but I thought the cake was a bit dry – I would advise brushing the cake with either simple syrup or a combination of lime juice and water after it cools (poke it all over with toothpicks first so the cake absorbs the juice).  If you’re concerned about being overwhelmed with lime, I would take the lime out of the cake itself and just make a plain white cake with lime curd and icing.  Also, my limes were not at all as juicy as I was anticipating. Not that the lime taste was muted by any means, but if your limes are on the large and/or juicy side, I would use less in the cake and icing.

For the Cake:

Adapted from this cake


1 ¾ cups sugar

¾ cup butter, softened

3 large eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup milk

Butter/cooking spray

Zest and juice of two limes

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and grease three 8-inch cake pans.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg is added.  Add lime zest and juice.

In a separate bowl, mix together salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour.  Add one third of this mixture to the butter/sugar and beat until mixed.  Add half of the milk and beat. Repeat until all of the flour and milk have been added (you should start and end with the flour).  Pour the batter into the prepared pans (it’s going to be fairly thick).

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center is set.  After removing from the oven, take the cakes out of their pans and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

If you’re making the cake more than a day in advance, wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and freeze.

For the lime curd:

Adapted from allrecipes

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter

3/4 cup lime juice (it took me more than 3 limes to get this much juice)

1 tbsp lime zest

2 eggs, beaten

In a double boiler over medium high heat, combine sugar, butter, lime juice and lime zest.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until butter melts.  Once the butter has melted, slowly add 2 tablespoons of the hot lime mixture to the beaten eggs, mixing vigorously during the addition.

Lower the heat on the double boiler to medium, and slowly whisk the egg mixture into the butter/sugar/lime mixture.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 – 25 minutes, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon.  Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator if not using immediately.

For the icing:

Adapted from this icing

4 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp milk

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Zest and juice of 2 limes

2 cups heavy cream

Green food coloring (optional)

Mix together butter, milk, sugar, lime zest, food coloring and lime juice in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form.  Fold butter/sugar into whipped cream until combined.   Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

To assemble:

If you’ve refrigerated or frozen the cake, allow it to come to room temperature.  On a cake plate lined with parchment paper (more detail in the assembly of the Cannoli Cake), lay the first cake on the plate (because of the low cooking temp, the cakes should be fairly flat – if you wish to get them flatter, cut the domed top carefully off prior to assembly).  Cover with about half of the lime curd mixture (this will be a really thin layer, as you don’t need much; if you overfill this, it will ooze out the side of the cake and make icing the cake a challenge).  Lay the next cake on top and repeat.  Finally, put the last cake on top and ice the top and sides with the whipped cream icing (I had a little extra icing and curd when I was done, so don’t worry about using every ounce of either).

Alternately:

I thought about cutting each cut in half and making it six layers, each with a thin layer of lime curd, but I was really pressed for time and didn’t get a chance. I think it would’ve helped out a bit with the dryness I noted in the headnote of the recipe…If you go in that direction, I’d love to know how it went!

Red Velvet Cupcakes and Pomegranate Buttercream Monday, May 3 2010 

I’m sort of a cynical person.  I’m adamantly stubborn and incredibly sarcastic, and I rarely believe things I find to good to be true.  But I have a bad habit of putting an unreasonable amount of faith in new recipes.  I don’t know why this is – I just always assume that every recipe I try will work out flawlessly, perfectly, and effortlessly the very first time.

Obviously, it doesn’t always happen that way, and I’ve had my share of kitchen trauma.  I always feel guilty blaming the recipe when something fails.  Usually, I blame a variety of things: my failure to read specific instructions, the food itself, the ingredients, myself…the list goes on.  But I never want to judge something I’ve only tried once too harshly, since it could very well be my fault that it didn’t turn out right.  In fact, considering the sources of some of the recipes I’ve bombed, I’d say that’s a fairly reasonable guess.

But the cupcakes – I don’t necessarily think the cupcakes were all my fault. Nor do I think they were a complete failure, since they set up a little more the next day and lost the weird, jelly-like substance buried at the bottom of their cupcake liners under a deceptive, moist layer of cake.  But even if you looked passed the gelatinous depths of the pretty pink cakes, they had bigger problems: they failed to rise at all, and they just looked so pathetically diminutive in their half-filled cups.  There was no beautiful sloped top, no cute muffin-top puff over the edges of the liner, no nothing.  Just under-filled and underwhelming cakes, which were so cloyingly sweet that the taste just lingered in my mouth, coating my teeth with sugar and shattered dreams.  I knew the instant I pulled them out of the oven I’d be chucking them and starting from scratch.

And I did start all over, but here’s the thing – if I really cared to know whether it was me or the recipe that failed, I’d try again.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been a scientist, and I don’t like to waste handmade baked goods.  Instead, I scrapped that recipe, and found a red velvet cake recipe with over 100 successful attempts on All Recipes and a buttercream I already knew how to make. Because sometimes new just isn’t better, and when my cooking confidence is shaken, it takes a slam-dunk recipe to set it back on its feet.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Adapted from allrecipes

Makes 20 cupcakes

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 fluid ounce red food coloring

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp white vinegar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line or grease your cupcake pans.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until pale yellow.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add vanilla, buttermilk, baking soda, and vinegar, and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, salt, and cocoa powder together, then slowly add the wet ingredients.  Mix until combined. Add red food coloring and mix until the color is uniform.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners, filling each about 3/4 of the way.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Cool completely.

Pomegranate Buttercream

1 ½ sticks butter

2 cups confectioners sugar

4 tbsp whole milk or half and half

2 tbsp pomegranate schnapps

In a large bowl, cream together butter and confectioners sugar until pale yellow.  Stir in milk and schnapps until creamy and pale pink.

Keep refrigerated until use.

Cheesecake Monday, Mar 29 2010 

Ok, we’ll take a break from the travel posts (since San Fran isn’t the only place I’ve been in the last few weeks) because it’s been far too long since I, you know, cooked.

And why dive back in with something foolproof or quick?  No, no – bring on the hour-long cooking times and temperamental ingredients.  I’m back in business, baby.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about this cheesecake though: it’s not tough to pull together.  It’s just that, well, all cheesecakes need to bake this long.  That’s why some genius somewhere invented no-bake cheesecake…because it takes for-effing-ever to cook.  But as we’ve discussed once or twice, I’m not only stubborn as shit, I’m also a really big snob, and I pretty much can’t stand no-bake cheesecake.  It always tastes cheap to me.  And it’s one of those things that people take a bite of and say “oh, that tastes pretty good for no-bake cheesecake.”  Um, no sir.  I don’t want it to taste pretty good for being a cop out.  I’m not interested in wasting calories on a dessert that’s pretty good for being mediocre. No, no.  If I’m going to eat a cheesecake, much less go to the effort of making the darn thing, then we’re going all out here.  You know what they say: go big or go home.

Not that I went big persay.  At the end of the day, this is a really basic cheesecake.  It’s moist and creamy and decadent as hell, but it’s not even in the same neighborhood as this gem.  I don’t even think my cheesecake lives in the same state as that cheesecake.  Maybe not even the same country.  But I wanted a basic, no frills cheesecake.  And this cheesecake came with sparkling recommendations from 2,816 (yes, you read that right – I said two thousand sixteen) reviewers on allrecipes.com.  I’m sorry – what the crap!? And the irony is that you know that there are people that have made the thing and were just too lazy to write a review (why yes, I am looking in the mirror – funny you should mention it…).  With that many testers singing it’s 4-and-a-half-star praises, not even the seven and a half hour prep time scared me.  Ok.  I’m lying.  It scared the pants off of me, but, like I said, I’m stubborn, so I decided to devote my day on Sunday to cheesecake-baking.

Only, on Saturday night, the birthday party I was “just swinging by for an hour” turned out to be so entertaining that I stayed till 3am and slept till 11:30 the next morning to compensate.  And guess what? I was still tired.  Laziness prevailed, and it was 7:30 at night when I elected to begin the process.  Go ahead.  Do the math.  What’s seven and a half hours from 7:30pm?  Too damn late for me to be awake on a school night, that’s what.  So, despite all of those reviews that demanded I use a water bath and let it cool sloooooooowly in the oven for five to six hours, it was freaking 9:30 by the time I pulled it out of the oven.  Yes, I pulled it out, because I love you cheesecake, but momma’s gotta get some sleep tonight.  And did it crack like the Grand Canyon not 20 minutes later, like everyone wrote in that it would?  You betcha.  Am I considering making some chocolate ganache to dump on top of that bad boy before I bring it into work to share on Wednesday?  Hell yes.

Lesson learned?  I think so.

Basic Cheesecake

Adapted from All Recipes

Because I lack the ability to create desserts without chocolate in them, I used chocolate graham crackers.  I was completely planning to nearly double the crust, but when I got to 18 graham crackers (the original was 15), it just felt like a lot.  So I stopped.  I feel like it worked for me, and my cheesecake came up pretty high on the sides of my springform pan, so I was retroactively glad I stopped at that point.  Obviously, you could keep going if that’s what floats your boat.

18 (chocolate) graham crackers, crushed into crumbs

4 tbsp melted butter

4 (8-ounce) packages of (ROOM TEMPERATURE) cream cheese

1 cup white sugar

3/4 cup milk

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

2 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  In a large bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and butter.  Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan.

Cream together cheese and sugar until smooth.  Blend in milk and eggs, mixing to incorporate (try to avoid overbeating here).  Add sour cream and mix until evenly distributed and smooth.  Add vanilla and flour, mix to combine.  Pour mixture into the prepared pan on top of the crust.

Bake (with a water bath if you’re more intelligent than me) for one hour (mine took nearly an extra half hour).  Turn the oven off, crack the door slightly ajar, and allow the cake to cool slowly for several hours.  If you pull it out into the world quickly, it will crack.  I promise.

After cake is cooled, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving.

Cannoli Cake Monday, Mar 8 2010 

When we went to Italy nearly a year ago, I was looking forward to a lot of things: gelato, wine, pasta, cheese, bread…you get the idea.  Brother, on the other hand, was decidedly more focused – he only wanted cannoli.  That’s it.  I dragged my family through almost every food store we walked by in my quest to bring as much Italy back to Boyfriend as I possibly could, but Brother? Brother searched every single bakery we happened upon because, honestly, the kid could not find cannoli anywhere.  Nowhere!  Not in Venice, not in Florence, and not in Rome.  And if you asked him today how his trip to Italy was last year, the answer might still be, even after all this time, that it would’ve been better if he could have found some freaking cannoli.

I have no idea where the fascination with cannoli came from, and I didn’t know it existed until we were traipsing through the streets of Venice in search of a bakery that made them.  But the kid knows what he likes, and his dessert tastes have always differed markedly from my own.  On my birthday, it’s chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate, with a side of cheesecake thrown in for good measure – the sweeter and more decadent, the better (since we all know that calories don’t count on your birthday).  On Brother’s birthday, there is always, always carrot cake.  Carrot cake!  Now, my mom makes a banging carrot cake, and it’s always incredibly delicious, but on my birthday, I’d rather go big or go home.

So when I decided to make an extra cake for Brother’s 17th birthday yesterday (because one cake is just never enough in my family), I went big.  I picked the most unnecessarily large, complex, and involved cake I could find expressly because it involved, you guessed it, cannoli.

I have a new found love of really big, beautiful layer cakes after making two of them in the last month or so.  It’s so gratifying to put all the pieces together after several hours of mixing, baking, and stirring and wind up with a beautiful, delicious creation.  Of course, there’s always that little voice of concern in the back of my head muttering about the fact that I can’t exactly taste it first to make sure it doesn’t suck, but so far that hasn’t been an issue.  Both cakes were a rousing success and I do believe that the monstrous cannoli cake won’t be my last layer cake.

Cannoli Cake

Adapted from Epicurious

I made several changes to this – most notably, I switched all of the almond flavorings for vanilla extract.  Not because I don’t like almond, but because I didn’t have either of those things, but I absolutely had vanilla. So in it went.  If you’re less lazy, I’m sure the almond would be delicious.  I also felt that the proportions were way off here. I wound up with way too much frosting and filling for the amount of cake I had.  I know that sounds ridiculous to say, seeing as how I had three full cake layers here, but it’s true.  Perhaps if you were to split each layer in half (to make six) and do almost a 1:1 ratio of filling to cake on each layer, you might use all the filling.  And obviously, more of the filling equals a taller cake, which means you use more frosting.  The frosting and cake were my personal favorite parts of the cake, and I could see using them elsewhere with a different filling.  But not for Brother’s birthday.  On Brother’s birthday, it has to be cannoli.

For the Cake:

1 ¾ cups sugar

¾ cup butter, softened

3 large eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup milk

Butter/cooking spray

3 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and grease three 8-inch cake pans.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg is added.  Add vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, mix together salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour.  Add one third of this mixture to the butter/sugar and beat until mixed.  Add half of the milk and beat. Repeat until all of the flour and milk have been added (you should start and end with the flour).  Pour the batter into the prepared pans (it’s going to be fairly thick).

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center is set.  After removing from the oven, take the cakes out of their pans and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.  Once the cakes are cool, poke them all over with a toothpick.  Mix vanilla extract with one tablespoon of water, then brush all three layers of cake with the mixture using a pastry brush.

If you’re making the cake more than a day in advance, wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and freeze.

For the Filling:

2 lbs ricotta cheese

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

2 ½  tbsp vanilla extract

3 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

In a large mixing bowl, beat together all ingredients excepted cream.  In a smaller bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form, then gently fold the cream into the ricotta mixture.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

For the Frosting:

4 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp milk

1 ¾ cups confectioners sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups heavy cream

Mix together butter, milk, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form.  Fold butter/sugar into whipped cream until combined.  Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

To Assemble:

1 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 cannoli shells

Using a pastry bag or baggie with the corner cut out, pipe some of the filling into each cannoli shell.  Set aside.  Line the edges of your cake plate with waxed paper (cut four strips and lay them as close to the outside of the plate as possible while still allowing them to be partially under the cake).  Place one cake on the plate, cover with half of the filling (I didn’t use anywhere near half, but if it’ll fit, by all means do it).  Cover with another cake, then add the rest of the filling.  Place the last cake on top.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the whipped cream frosting, then sprinkle the top with chopped chocolate.  Lay cannoli shells on top of the cake, pressing them into the icing slightly.

Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve it – mine was fine overnight completely assembled.

Birthday Cake and Mocha Buttercream Wednesday, Feb 3 2010 

I think it’s safe to say that I spend a fair amount of my free time reading food blogs – I read the blogs of chefs who inspire me with their creativity and innovative recipes, I read the blogs of writers I find truly hilarious, and I read the blogs of photographers whose work I will never come close to replicating.  Everyone has their little niche, their forte, the thing they’re especially good at.  Or, at least, the single thing that makes me immediately click on their site before another.  Because I know that if there’s something not to be missed in a specific food category, it’s up there.

This is how I feel about the Smitten Kitchen’s cake expertise.  Not to say that there are any shortcomings in her gorgeous, well-written site, but the woman baked an entire wedding cake. Bow down to her infinite cake-baking wisdom.  In short, I find her recipes (and not just the cake-related ones) concise, clear, and endlessly delicious, and Mom’s birthday cake was no exception…even though my failure to read resulted in too much batter (your pans are not 9 inches wide, Katie), which resulted in, well, the ugliest cupcakes I’ve ever seen due to, again, my inability to read (Seriously – cakes baked at 300 degrees for an hour are supposed to be flat so that they’re easy to layer; they will not produce gently rounded, perfect cupcakes. EVER. Stop trying.).  Quick! Hide my diploma!

So as not to steal her thunder (Plus, who am I kidding? Like I could ever explain a recipe this well), I’m linking you straight to the source of Mom’s chocolate layer cake with strawberry filling (I couldn’t find raspberries and, I’ll admit, didn’t try that hard because I really like strawberries).  For the frosting, I made a simple, mocha buttercream because on her birthday, Mom demanded buttercream.  And who am I to deny her?

Mocha Buttercream

Makes about 2-2 1/2 cups, or just enough to frost the 4-layer, 8-inch cake I made

3 ounces semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are fine)

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp hot brewed coffee

2 tbsp half-and-half

1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate with the coffee, vanilla, and half-and-half under chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  Set aside to cool.  Beat together sugar and butter until butter is creamy, then add cooled chocolate mixture, beating until there are no longer visible flecks of butter, and the frosting is smooth.

Gourmet Gingerbread Sunday, Dec 20 2009 

It’s been too long since I’ve had gingerbread.  Well, actually, that’s a complete lie.  But still – it’s been years since I’ve made gingerbread.  Mom says Florida Grandmom (her mother) used to bake gingerbread every year when she came to visit for Christmas, but this was before I was bitten by the baking bug (Woah, alliteration.  Thanks middle school Language Arts!) and I actually have no memory at all of this happening.  My childhood Christmas memories err more towards, well, opening presents in my pj’s…and then watching as Dad spent hours constructing whatever Barbie dollhouse/car/RV (Seriously – it’s hot pink and is still in my basement.  Did I mention I happen to loathe camping??) I’d wanted that year.  Ahh, the joys of parenting.

I do, however, have one very vivid gingerbread-related memory, and it goes a little something like this:

One year, I made gingerbread myself.  I remember preheating the oven, making the whole shebang (unassisted, thankyouverymuch), pouring it lovingly into the loaf pan, sliding it ever so carefully into the hot oven, shutting the door…and immediately realizing I had forgotten to add the molasses.  Which is, of course, arguably the key ingredient for gingerbread success (I say arguably because leaving out the ginger would sort of eff up the whole name of the dish).  So I yanked it out of the oven, broke up the delicate crust that had started to form on the top, feverishly dumped the molasses into the pan, stirred like my damn life depended on it, and flung it back into the oven – all the while shooting furtive little glances around the kitchen to make sure my family hadn’t realized what a dopey thing I’d done.  I mean, really Katie.  You know what color gingerbread is.  Did you honestly think that pale, bread-batter colored crap was going to come out the deep, dark brown of gingerbread?  I didn’t think so.

How did it taste, you ask?  No idea.  Can’t remember.  But I think the fact that I’ve blocked out the part of the memory where I actually consume the stuff is an indication of its success.  Or, you know, lack thereof.  Anyway….

Perhaps this is why it’s been years since my last attempt.  But you guys know that, even after its untimely demise, I’m still a Gourmet addict, and the description of their gingerbread sucked me right in.  No strange ingredients, it promised, just straightforward gingerbread. Oh!  Something easy! Well then.  Joy to the World, indeed, friends.

Gourmet Gingerbread

Adapted from Gourmet

Warm out of the oven, this gingerbread is the best I’ve had in a long time.  More cake than bread, it rises a considerable amount, leaving the inside incredibly fluffy, moist, and…soft.  That’s the only way I can describe it – soft. Soft and Christmasy.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 cup mild molasses

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 cup hot water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

Mix together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together in a separate bowl until pale and fluffy.  Beat in egg, then beat in molasses and milk.  Slowly add the flour mixture until everything is smooth and incorporated, then add the hot water and stir until mixed.  The batter will look gross and curdled – it’s OKAY.

Spread batter evenly into pan, and bake until set (a cake tester will come out nearly clean – I didn’t want to overbake mine, so it wasn’t completely clean yet).  Cool on a wire rack, then cut.

Shameless Plug Friday, Nov 20 2009 

A little magazine called Bon Appetit is running their blog-envy contest on holiday baking this month, and while I realize I didn’t bake this for the holiday they’re talking about, it was for a holiday.

 

So head on over here and vote – even if it’s not for mine!  But really, it should be for mine.  And really, they should’ve used the picture I submitted instead of the one with the Fed-Ex box full of beer in the background.  But let’s not split hairs, mkay?

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