Monday, May 24, 2010

Golden Lemon Almond Cake

My favourite type of baked goods is definitely cake. If I could survive on cakes alone, I probably would. Recently I had borrowed a copy of Rose's Heavenly Cakes from the public library because Rose Levy Beranbaum is well-known for her cakes, and I wanted to browse through a more modern version of her cake book (versus her Cake Bible, which is a great resource but quite a bit older). Most of the cakes in the publication simply made me want to try them all, but being busy with summer school means I do not have all the time in the world to compose cakes that take a few days to prepare, no matter how delicious they may be. Moreover, these days there have not been any special occasions for which I could bake a cake, so I had to keep it simple.

Having had success with the marble cake which I previously made only increased my love for butter cakes baked in Bundt pans, so I decided to bake something from the "Butter/Oil Cakes" section of the book, and I settled on the Golden Lemon Almond Cake. I chose this cake because I wanted something that is not chocolate (for once), and since I love lemon and almonds, what could go wrong, right?

This cake is very lemony from the double dose of lemon in the batter (I substituted fresh lemon juice for the lemon oil, since the latter seems to be a specialty ingredient and the recipe only needed a very small amount) and the lemon syrup which you brush on while the cake is cooling. The almond flavour of the cake is also quite pronounced, especially since I accidentally burned some of the almond while I was toasting them (whoops!). Overall, this was a very good cake that is a nice change from chocolate. Next time I make this, however, it would have to be for a crowd, because I refuse to finish most of the cake by myself again!

Here's the recipe for this cake, though if you love cakes you should definitely check out Rose's books if you haven't already. I also discovered Heavenly Cake Baker's blog, which is on a mission to bake all of the cakes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes. I love going through the entries to read someone else's firsthand experience baking the lovely cakes in the book, especially some of the more intricate ones!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cocoa Brownies

I never really had a high appreciation for cocoa powder, preferring recipes that use "real" chocolate. To me, it just wouldn't feel like the baked good has much substance if the only chocolate flavour comes from cocoa powder. This was the attitude that I displayed when I first encountered this recipe for cocoa brownies on Smitten Kitchen. Well, I did bookmark the recipe, since it does have the superlative "best" attached to its name. However, my snobby attitude got the better of me and I neglected this recipe for a while, only to return to it when I didn't have enough bittersweet chocolate in the house.

May I now say that I was very wrong? I've been converted to love cocoa powder. This recipe yields the darkest, fudgiest brownies that I've ever tried that do not include chocolate chunks. The best part is it is very easy to make with pantry staples, one of which is the star of this recipe, the humble cocoa powder.

I think I even dare to say that this has now become my go-to recipe for brownies. I used almonds because that's what I had at home, but walnuts or pecans would be great, too. I've since made two batches of this, and I'm a bit brownie'd out at the moment, but for sure I will make this again the next time I crave for brownies!
Cocoa Brownies
recipe from Smitten Kitchen
yields 1 8x8-inch pan's worth of brownies

10 tbsp (140 gr) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp cocoa powder (I used Dutch-processed, but natural will work too)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup your choice of nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line the bottom and sides of an 8x8-inch square pan with parchment paper.

2. Combine butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a heatproof bowl and microwave in 30-second increments until the butter is melted and the mixture is combined. (Alternatively, you can do this step on the stovetop using a double boiler.) It will look gritty, but that's okay for now. Let cool.

3. Stir in the vanilla extract with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. When everything is blended and shiny, add the flour and stir until the batter is well-mixed. Then beat vigorously for 40 strokes. Stir in nuts, and transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

4. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the brownies are set. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing.

Marbled Nutella Cupcakes

I love Nutella, but we haven't had a jar of the stuff at home for the longest time. This is because we discovered store-brand dark chocolate spread, which is less sweet and has a more intense chocolate flavour. Since then, we kind of forgot all about the hazelnutty goodness of Nutella. Fast forward to a few months ago, when my boyfriend decided to pick up a jar for his dorm room. Having rediscovered how wonderful it is, I would have a slice of bread with some Nutella whenever I visited him. Eventually he donated what's left of his jar to me, and I was able to eat Nutella with bread whenever I wanted. :)

These cupcakes are a request from him, and I happily obliged. I had come across the recipe for it on she bakes & she cooks years ago before I even expressed an interest in baking, and I made a mental note to try, but it never materialized (partly because I never had Nutella around the house).

I did not notice that the recipe calls for no liquid ingredients (other than eggs) until I saw how thick the batter was. This made it a little hard to swirl, but otherwise I had no problems with the batter. Also, unlike regular marble cakes where the chocolate part consists of the batter mixed with chocolate or cocoa powder, in this case, the chocolate part is solely the Nutella dolloped on top of the cake batter and swirled together to create the marbling pattern.

The combination of Nutella and cake is wonderful, as the cake itself is not very sweet, so the nutty chocolate sweetness from the Nutella lends a nice contrast. I'm not sure if I like the cake on its own because it's a tad on the dry side (as well as a little bland), but it definitely works for this recipe since the Nutella is what gives the cupcakes their distinct flavour. The most important thing is that the requester liked them a lot!
Nutella Cupcakes
recipe from Baking Bites
yields about 20 cupcakes

140 gr (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
Nutella or other brands of chocolate hazelnut spread

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until the egg is fully incorporated after each addition. Add vanilla extract.

3. Stir in flour, salt, and baking powder until everything is mixed well and no flour remains.

4. Fill the muffin tins with the batter, about 3/4 full. Then add about 1 tsp of Nutella on top of the batter. Swirl the two together to create a marbled design; don't over swirl.

5. Bake for 20 minutes; test for doneness using a toothpick or skewer. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Buttery Goodness Part 2: Shortbread Hearts

For some strange reason, I had a strong craving for heart-shaped shortbread cookies with jam filling. I remember wanting to make them for last year's Valentine's Day (so long ago!), but nothing materialized because I was busy with school and I ended up making truffles for my boyfriend instead. So this craving came back, and again, I wanted to bake this instead of studying for exams. However, after realizing that I needed to chill the dough for at least an hour, I ended up only making the dough and freezing it for later.

Fast forward ~2 weeks later, I'm finally done with exams and have the chance to bake these cookies. The week prior, I was busy looking for heart-shaped cookie cutters because apparently I had absolutely none at home, not even basic shapes like circles. I searched all over the house and instead I found random equipment I didn't know we had, like a loaf pan, springform pans in different sizes, a cookie press, and not one but TWO muffin tins (this is only ironic to me because I had complained about not having any and I literally went to buy one just hours before I found my mom's hidden collection). Anyway, apparently if you want nice cookie cutters you have to go to well-stocked cookware store, so I trekked all the way there and ended up being too frugal to buy a plastic set for $12. So I ended up getting a set of circular cutters for $7 and my boyfriend insisted on bending them into hearts against my wishes.

Wow, I ended up rambling on the previous paragraph. Anyway, I decided to bake these, lopsided hearts and all. I had trouble with rolling the dough because it was rather crumbly, and they definitely should be rolled out a little thinner. Tastewise, the cookies are exactly what I had been craving for: crumbly and sandy, with a strong butter flavour and just enough sweetness & tartness from the strawberry jam. Unfortunately, I don't have good pictures of the assembled cookies because they all turned out blurry. Fret not, this is not the last time I will be making these cookies!
Shortbread Cookies
adapted from Joy of Baking
yields about 20 cookies

For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:
fruit jam or preserve of your choice (I used strawberry)

1. Whisk the flour and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and continue beating for about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat until combined. Stir in the dry ingredients until incorporated.

3. Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour in the fridge.

4. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

5. On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it is 3/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out the dough and place the shapes 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Chill for 15 minutes to let the cookies firm up.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cookies are lightly browned on the surface. Cool on a metal rack for about 10 minutes.

7. Sprinkle icing sugar on the cookies.

8. To assemble, spread some jam on a cookie and top with another cookie, or eat as is!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Buttery Goodness Part 1: Marble-ous Cake

I don't remember how, but months ago I stumbled upon this recipe for a marble butter cake, and I immediately wrote it down on my "to-bake" list. The cake looked so moist and yummy, and there was also something about Bundt cakes that appeal to me. Unfortunately, I didn't own a bundt pan so I didn't get around to making this cake until last week, when I saw that my local Safeway had Nordic Ware pans on sale. I decided to snap it up and make this cake that same weekend, even though I was totally busy with exams. I also underestimated the amount of time this cake needs from start to finish; I "wasted" 2 hours that could have been used to study, but hey, I needed the break.

This recipe yields a lot of batter that even my 12-cup Bundt pan had trouble containing it all. I had to pop this cake back in the oven a few more times after the suggested baking time of 60 minutes. When it was finally done and cooled, I almost had doubts about this cake because nothing about it really stood out, but the next day, this cake's flavour has completely developed and it turned addictive. I loved the buttery flavour, and my favourite part has got to be the lovely brown crust. I really like butter cakes a lot more than oil-based cakes, which is why I didn't really like the yellow cake I made in my previous post. This recipe has tons of butter (I used a little more than the recipe calls for, but only because I had 18 grams extra!) and dairy products (i.e. not figure-friendly), but what the heck, I needed the energy for studying.

For the chocolate batter, I used Valrhona Manjari and did not add any cocoa powder. I was debating whether or not I should, and in the end I decided not to because I wanted to see how strong the chocolate flavour would be. Turns out I really should have added some cocoa; the chocolate flavour was very subtle and cocoa would have been able to add more depth to it. I'm actually on the fence about Valrhona Manjari's flavour; I'd like to try the Guanaja variety next time and compare it to Manjari.

Marble Cake
recipe from House of Annie
yields 1 12-cup Bundt cake

12 oz / 340 gr unsalted butter, softened
6 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk
100 gr chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 tbsp cocoa powder

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF and grease the Bundt pan.

2. Put chocolate in a dry, clean bowl and melt in microwave oven in 30-second intervals, stirring till you get a smooth paste. Remove and let cool a little.

3. Cream together butter and sugar till mixture is fluffy and sugar has been cut in well.

4. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat on med-high speed for about 20 seconds after each egg, and scrape down before adding the next one.

5. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

6. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add them in three portions, alternating with the yogurt and the milk (i.e. 1/3 dry ingredients, yogurt, 1/3 dry ingredients, milk, final third dry ingredient). Stir the batter after each addition, making sure there are traces of flour or yogurt.

7. Take out about half of the vanilla cake batter and drop it around the Bundt pan.

8. To the remaining batter in the mixing bowl, dd the melted chocolate and cocoa powder. Mix well until there are no more white streaks.

9. Drop the chocolate batter between the white batter in the Bundt pan.

10. Swirl the batter together to obtain the marble design. Do not overmix because you will lose the marbling pattern.

11. Bake for about 60-75 minutes. Test the cake for doneness using a skewer (if cake is done, skewer should come out clean). Cool the cake on a cooling rack before slicing.