Archives for category: desserts

honey cake 2

It is likely impossible that my sweet tooth could ever be lost, but it has definitely been tamed.  After working in a bakery for some time, testing very sweet pastries over-and-over, I no longer rich pastries (read: creme brûlée, eclairs, cupcakes) or fancy layer cakes dressed in buttercream.

What will never get old is a treat that I can enjoy when my pang for second breakfast hits and goes well with coffee.

Oh yes…second breakfast.

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I knew I was in the right place once I realized that, like me, the guys I work with at the bakery pretty much follow the feeding schedule of hobbits.  Just swap the tea and pints with coffee and…yup…pretty much hobbits.

Second breakfast and elevenses are for real and very serious.  To avoid early-, mid-, and late-morning grumblings (and to stay on the guys’ good sides), inevitably we must all take a break for coffee and a not-so-sweet baked good.  Be it cornbread, croissants, muffins,  or some form of coffee cake, we all feel much better after we have taken a moment to re-energize and re-caffeinate (and I am no longer afraid to ask one of them to open that pesky bucket of honey).

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Speaking of honey…  One of my favorite cookbooks from 2012 is Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.  Full of beautiful recipes and photographs, this book really cover the gamut from decadent special occasion cakes to whip-it-together-during-naptime treats.

And, I absolutely cannot get enough of the honey cake recipe.  It fits all my requirements for cake: not too sweet, super moist, naturally beautiful (no fussy decoration required), it is perfect at 9am (second breakfast) or 9pm (because if I were a hobbit I definitely wouldn’t stop at supper), it is easy to make using ingredients you likely already have on hand, and it can sit happily on your counter for several days.

Honey Cake

Makes 1 9-inch Cake

Adapted slightly from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

Cake:

Heaping 1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup honey

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs, room temperature

1 egg yolk, room temperature

3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature

Glaze:

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spread almonds evenly on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 10 minutes.  Set aside and keep oven on.

Grease a 9 by 3-inch springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper.  In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, honey and vanilla on low speed until blended; increase the speed to high and beat until very light and fluffy 5-7 minutes.  Stop mixer frequently and scrape the paddle and sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.  Beat in eggs and egg yolk one at a time until well incorporated.  With mixer on low, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour.   After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape the bowl.  Stop them mixer before the last of the flour has been incorporated and complete the blending with a rubber spatula to ensure you do not overbeat the batter.

Spread the batter evenly into prepared pan.  Rap the pan firmly on the counter to release any air bubbles.  Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  The cake will turn a deep golden color and be firm on the top, and a wooden skewer inserted in the middle will have moist crumbs attached.  The cake may crack on the top, this is okay because it will be covered by almonds and will allow more of the glaze to be absorbed into the cake.

While the cake is baking, make the glaze in a small saucepan by stirring the honey, sugar, and butter over medium heat until combined.  Bring the mixture just barely to a simmer.  Turn off heat, but leave saucepan on the burner to keep glaze warm.

Remove the cake from the oven and poke holes all over the top of the cake with a wooden skewer or fork.  Pour half of the glaze over the cake, evenly sprinkle the cake with the almonds, and then pour the rest of the glaze over the almonds.

Place back in the center of the oven and bake for 5 more minutes.

Cool cake on a wire rack for about an hour.  Remove the sides of the pan and transfer cake to a serving plate.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Cake will stay fresh up to five days, stored well wrapped at room temperature.

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Ready to keep traveling? Our first major stop in Italy was Florence, where we spent five days.  What a city!  While not all that big, Florence is busting at the seams with museums, gorgeous architecture, Renaissance history, art, swarms of tourists, and gelatoa lot of gelato.

We did everything you “should” do while visiting Florence.  We saw the David, the Uffizi Gallery, climbed to the top of the Duomo, and watched the sunset from the Piazzale Michealangelo.

Of course, one of my favorite moments in Florence was visiting the outstanding food market near the center of the city. I was in heaven!  Salame, Prosciutto, dozens of varieties of Pecorino cheese, vibrant fruits and vegetables, wine, olive oils, artisans making huge batches of fresh pasta, and every cut of meat you could imagine.  We bought some soft Pecorino cheese (by far the best and most unusual Pecorino I have ever had), robust Salame, crusty bread, and perfectly ripe strawberries.  We lugged our treasures to the Piazza della Signoria and ate in the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Overall, we found the food in Florence mediocre.  Granted, we could have just made poor decisions in restaurants, but we were never blown away by anything we ate.  The one exception to that would be the gelato.  Florence definitely boasted more gelaterias than any other city during our visit and they have it right.  The most memorable of all the gelato we ate was from a fancy cafe just of the Ponte Vecchio.  Besides gelato, this shop was stocked with all sorts of pastries and a lovely espresso bar, but we were immediately drawn to the gelato case.  Before I knew it, after shelling out more money that I ever have/will for frozen milk, I was the proud owner of a heaping cup of the most flavorful black cherry and pistachio gelato.  Quite possibly the best 8.50€ ever spent.

In memory of our favorite afternoon snack, I have adapted a semifreddo (semi frozen) recipe from the latest Bon Appetit.  No ice cream maker or euros required.

Pistachio and Cherry Semifreddo

Serves 10

Adapted from Bon Appetit June 2011

1 1/2 cups shelled unsalted pistachios

4 tablespoons sugar divided, plus 1/2 cup

3/4 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract, divided

1 1/2 cups frozen cherries, thawed (about 6 oz)

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Line a metal loaf pan (approximately 9x5x3″) with 2 layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.

Grind pistachios and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until very finely chopped.  Transfer pistachio mixture to a small saucepan.  Add 3/4 cups milk; bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl; strain, discarding solids.  Stir in 1/4 teaspoons almond extract; set pistachio mixture aside.

Puree cherries and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor until smooth.  Set a fine-mesh strainer over another medium bowl; strain, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible.  Discard solids.  Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and set mixture aside.

Whisk eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a medium metal bowl.  Set bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch water).  Beat egg mixture at high speed until it triples in volume and an instant-read thermometer reads 170°, about 3 minutes.  Remove bowl from double boiler and continue beating until thick and cool, about 3 minutes.  Add one-half of egg mixture to both the pistachio and cherry mixtures; fold each just to blend.

Beat cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form.  Add one-half of cram to each of the pistachio and cherry mixtures; fold each just to blend.  Cover cherry mixture and chill in refrigerator.  Pour pistachio mixture into prepared pan; smooth top.  Cover; freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.  Gently pour cherry mixture over pistachio layer; smooth top.  Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

To serve, uncover semifreddo, lift from pan and invert onto a chilled platter; peel off plastic.  Slice crosswise.

It’s Citrus Fest at Central Market.  Our produce department is brimming with unique citrus: heirloom navel oranges, blood oranges, variegated pink lemons, honey tangerines, and Buddha’s hand are among a few.

In the bakery we are filling our case and shelves with stunning deep-dish key lime pies, lemon/lime/grapefruit tarts, tons of lemons bars (people are addicted to these things), and wonderful citrus sweet breads (my favorite is the clementine coffee cake).

In the midst of all this citrus madness, I got to take a class at Central Market taught by my all-time favorite pastry chef/blogger, David Lebovitz, all about incorporating citrus into desserts.  It was an amazing class, full of inspiration for citrus, pastry, and blogging.  The menu included: meyer lemon-buttermilk ice cream sandwiches with nonfat gingersnaps, spiced chocolate cakes with caramelized white chocolate (such a cool technique) and candied tangerines, goat cheese souffles with mixed citrus compote in sparkling champagne and yuzu jelly, and tangerine floating island with blood orange caramel.  Everything was superb, I can’t even pick a favorite.

It was the first time that I had tried a floating island and I was pleasantly surprised.  It was light yet flavorful and I particularly loved the blood orange caramel and candied salted almonds David used to garnish the meringue.  I definitely plan to make some floating islands very soon, but I really wanted to try those special garnishes again, especially when I could still get my hands on blood oranges.

Hopefully you run into some beautiful citrus this season!

Blood Orange Caramel

Makes 1 cup

Courtesy of David Lebovitz

Note:  The blood oranges lend their deep red color and tartness to traditional caramel.  If you can’t find blood oranges, regular oranges would work as well.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup blood orange juice plus 1/4 cup to finish

Spread the sugar in the bottom of a saute pan or saucepan with heavy bottom.  Pour the water over the sugar to moisten it.

Cook the sugar and water over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil.  Add a few drops of the orange juice.

Continue to cook the sugar without stirring, until the mixture turns a light amber color.  Keep a constant eye on the caramel as it will cook very fast at this point.  When the caramel turns a dark amber color and begins to smoke and foam a bit, turn off the heat and immediately add the 1/2 cup of blood orange juice (preferably through a strainer if you have one).

Stir the caramel to dissolve any lumps of caramelized sugar and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.  Once it has cooled down, stir in the remaining 1/4 cup of blood orange juice.  Let cool and then transfer to airtight container.  Serve over a meringue or ice cream…or just straight off the spoon.

Salted Candied Almonds

Makes 1 cup

Courtesy of David Lebovitz

Note:  In the class, Davide made these with sliced almonds, which was great, but I love the bite of a chunky almond so I used coarsely chopped almonds.  You decide which you prefer!

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 cup sliced or coarsely chopped almonds

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Heat the water with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar in a skillet.

Remove from heat and mix in the almonds until well-coated, then gently stir in the salt.

Spread the almonds on the baking sheet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the almonds are golden brown, 15-20 minutes.