Tag Archives: cake

How I have fun: Meyer Lemon & White Chocolate Curd Tart

February is the beginning of the long birthday season at our house. From February to May we have 1-2 birthdays a month around here. On average this leads me to make 8 cakes and 60 cupcakes over the whole season since there is a family party, a friend party and a classroom party with cupcakes for every person. (Jeepers. Now that I have written that out, it does seem out of control! I may have to rethink this…)

Birthday season could be a pretty long slog for me, baking cake after cake after cupcake, so I have to mix it up and take some chances. Often I make things for the first time for the night of the party, sometimes without a real recipe. I would hate to get bored and I never have time to make a test version. Anyway since I was writing last time about not ever being bored in my kitchen, I thought I should write about how I made this dessert: Meyer Lemon and White Chocolate Curd Tart in a Macadamia Nut Crust.


 

Obviously this is not the first Meyer lemon and white chocolate concoction. Surely not the first in a macadamia nut crust. It wasn’t actually even a recipe, but a compilation of the tart crust I had left from Christmas in the freezer, Meyer lemons – whose tangy sweetness I love to play with in their short winter season, and one of Martin’s favorite sweets, white chocolate. This tart was delicious and so pretty. The high bright lemon notes soothed by creamy vanilla in the chocolate with a rich base flavor of macadamias. The best part though, was playing with all the pieces: the stashed crust, the seasonal fruit, the favorite ingredient. I like to imagine a jazz ensemble playing around with sound and start thinking about making food that way. All the fun is in the improvising.

We ate the last pieces of this tart with large bowls of cafe au lait  the following morning in bed. How I love birthday dessert with coffee when I wake up the next day! (especially if I’m also reading a good book) If you haven’t tried this, I recommend that you do as soon as the next birthday rolls around.

Meyer Lemon & White Chocolate Curd Tart in a Macadamia Nut Crust

Read the whole recipe through before starting. There is nothing complicated about any of it. It just requires a small amount of planning.

Macadamia Nut Crust (you must allow the tart dough to rest in the pan for at least 4 hours before baking – really the best thing is to just plan ahead and make it in advance – or have one stashed like I did!)

  • 3/4 c. unsalted raw macadamia nuts
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, in small cubes, very very cold. (I cut it into small pieces first and then stash it in the freezer until it is time to blend)
  • 1 large egg yolk, also very cold
  1. Combine the nuts and the sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse quickly and carefully until the nuts are finely ground. Careful! Don’t over process and make nut butter.
  2. Add the flour and pulse once or twice to blend.
  3. Add the cold butter and pulse for 10-20 seconds – until the pieces of butter are the size of large peas.
  4. Add the egg yolk and pulse for 7 seconds, until the mixture just begins to come together.
  5. Put all the crumbly dough into a bowl and knead together until the dough is uniformly moist. There should be no streaks of flour or egg. Don’t overwork and only use your fingertips so you don’t melt the butter. If the butter melts, the dough won’t be flaky. Don’t let this scare you and prevent you from trying! Tarts are very fun to make.
  6. Press the crumble into a 9″ square tart pan with a removable bottom. The dough should be evenly pressed with no bare patches. I try to get a generous 1/4″ at the rim of the tart pan for structural stability.
  7. Wrap the tart pan with plastic wrap and chill for at east 4 hours or overnight. (the shell can be frozen at this point for up to a month. No need to thaw when needed. Just proceed to baking)
  8. To bake the tart shell, preheat the oven to 375F.
  9. Place a large piece of parchment over the crust and fill the entire shell with pie weights (if you have them) or use dried beans (I have a box of garbanzo and black beans that I have used as pie weights for several years. If you use dried beans, never try to cook them later – they’ll be terrible.) Place the tart shell on a baking sheet.
  10. Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the edges of the pastry are dry and just beginning to color.
  11. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and carefully lift out the parchment and dried beans. Watch especially as you pull the parchment off the base of the tart as it will still be quite moist and fragile. I have patched back in any pieces that I accidentally pull off but I hate to do it!
  12. Return the sheet with the tart shell to the oven for 7-10 minutes until the pastry looks dry and is pale gold.
  13. Cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Meyer Lemon and White Chocolate Curd

  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2/3 c. Meyer lemon juice
  • 5 ounces finely chopped white chocolate – I used Green and Black’s which has dense flecks of vanilla bean
  • optional: the seeds from one vanilla bean – if you use another brand of chocolate
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • powdered sugar
  1. Beat the eggs in the bowl of a double boiler or a pyrex bowl that fits into a saucepan.
  2. Beat in the sugar, the lemon juice and the seeds of the vanilla bean if using.
  3. Whisk the ingredients until thickened over the simmering water in the saucepan. Do not let the bowl touch the water.
  4. In about 5 minutes, the mixture should have thickened to the consistency of pudding.
  5. Whisk in the pieces of white chocolate until the mixture is smooth.
  6. Immediately pour the curd into the prepared cooled tart shell.
  7. Cool at least 4 hours at room temperature before garnishing and serving.
  8. Garnish with a pint of washed and carefully dried raspberries. I start by placing one raspberry in each corner. Then one half way between each corner and so on. Then all the berries are placed evenly around the edge. Finally dust the tart with powdered sugar.


 

 

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Carrot Cake

I haven’t always been a fan of carrot cake. To say that I actively hate carrot cake would be untrue but I’ve never craved it. (To put it in context- if you asked me if I’d like a slice of Roasted Clementine and Chocolate Tart? Yes please, I’ll take one right now!) Carrot cake doesn’t call to me that way. The truth is, until this weekend,  I hadn’t even eaten a piece of carrot cake in over 20 years.

Why? The memory of those sticky, bloated, too sweet raisins for one thing. And those crummy little bits of walnut. I love walnuts. Walnut cake, walnut ice cream, toasted walnut halves with beets. Walnuts are the king of nuts and it kind of drives me nuts (yes really!) to see them in a supporting role.  Would Laurence Olivier take the role of a mere page?! I don’t think so. I wouldn’t put them in brownies or chocolate chip cookies either. Don’t even get me started on that Carrot Cake / Pineapple variation. I’m not totally sure where this prejudice came from. But guess what? It all changed for me last weekend.

When I was asked to make a carrot cake for a fall baby shower, I was nonplussed. How about Parsnip Cake? – I thought, or Persimmon Cashew Cakes?!  Carrot Cake? But I could make anything you want! No, carrot cake please! was the answer – it’s perfect because it’s fall. So I did a little reading. I read every one of my carrot cake recipes. (There are so many!) Of course there are variations beyond mere pineapple! Of course you can skip raisins. Of course you don’t have to gutter the walnuts.

For example, carrot cake can have coconut instead of walnuts, currants instead of raisins. The sometimes gloppy and heavy cream cheese frosting can lighten up with lemon rind and juice. One can make beautiful ribbons of carrot, candied in maple syrup to garnish that swath of now tart ivory frosting. When I began to change up the classic recipe, the process started to get really fun! This was no tired, old-fashioned, cafe carrot cake, getting stale under a glass dome. No. I borrowed a little of this and a little of that, combined recipes and, wow -I guess I love carrot cake! Enough like the original not to disappoint a traditionalist but irreverent enough to please an obsessive cake eater like me. Very pretty too.

I combined fragments from Joy of Cooking, the Weekend Baker by Abby Dodge, the Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten, and The New Best Recipe from Cooks Illustrated. The stole of toasted flaked coconut is me. Thanks to Maria for the nudge which dashed all my boring preconceived notions. What a fun project. And it was perfect because it’s fall.

Here’s what I did. All of the parts are fast and beyond easy.

Carrot Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat oven to 350.

  • 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or ground if that is all you have)
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c. vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. finely grated carrot
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup currants
  1. Butter and flour (2) 9″ round cake tins.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Pour the vegetable oil into a 2 cup liquid measuring cup. Add the eggs. Whisk with a fork.
  4. Whisk the dry ingredients with the oil and eggs mixture until smooth.
  5. Fold in the carrots, coconut and currants until evenly combined.
  6. Divide the batter between the two cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a cake rack to cool completely.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting in the Food Processor

  • 12 ounces of cold cream cheese
  • 1 c. unsalted butter – can be cold, better at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 c. confectioners suger, measured then sifted.
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (a good job for a microplane grater)

Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until evenly combined. You may have to scrape the bowl once or twice. Do not over-process.

Maple Candied Carrots

  • 1 cup of finely grated carrot
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup

Melt the butter in a medium sized heavy saute pan. Add the carrots and the maple syrup. Stir over medium high heat until the liquid is reduced and the carrots are glistening. You will see small candy bubbles on the side of the pan, browning slightly.  The whole process of cooking the carrots should take about 3 minutes. Turn all the carrots onto a paper towel lined plate and cool.

Toasted Coconut

  • 1 1/2 c. wide coconut shavings

  1. Preheat oven to 300.
  2. Spread 1 1/2 c. coconut in large roasting pan.
  3. Toast for 10-15 minutes stirring every 5 minutes. Watch for burning.
  4. Transfer coconut immediately to dinner plate to stop browning.
  5. When cool, store for up to 2 weeks in a tightly sealed container.

Assembling the cake

  1. In the center of a 10″ or larger flat plate, dab 2 tbsp of the frosting.
  2. Center one of the carrot cakes on the plate using the frosting as “glue” to hold it in place.
  3. Put 3/4 of a cup of the frosting on the cake and spread carefully up to the edge.
  4. Center the second cake on top. Then, using a scant 1/2 cup of frosting, carefully spread a very very thin layer of frosting all over the cake. This is called a crumb coat and it will keep the frosting crumb free ( Crumb-y frosting looks very messy.)
  5. Place the cake in the refrigerator for a half hour so that the crumb coat has a chance to set.
  6. Then proceed to frost the rest of the cake.
  7. Holding the cake over a roasting pan or a half sheet pan to catch the falling coconut, press handfuls of coconut gently into the frosting until the sides of the cake are completely covered.
  8. Take about 1/2 cup of the candied carrots and looking directing down over the top of the cake, heap the carrots artfully right in the center. Ta-da!

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Pear Cake with Cardamom

‎”Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” – George Eliot

Delicious quote. I’m not sure how I made it through my entire life never having heard it. (thanks Jackie T!)  Back to school, fall, the papery sounds of dry leaves and mucky sounds of wet ones – it all adds up to one thing for me: after school cake. If you’ve never baked a cake to eat on a sunny (or rainy!) fall afternoon, you should. One sweet, short, attainable project is a very satisfying thing. Also, it makes me very happy to see my kids come in the door, drop their backpacks and get that giddy look: Hey – it smells good in here!

An after school cake shouldn’t be a show-off cake or a time-consuming cake. There’s this dried apple cake from Cook’s Illustrated that I used to make all the time. But it’s kind of the overachiever type, and it is pretty fabulous, lush with apple flavor and a melting texture. Sad that it’s such a pain. You have to simmer the dried apples with cider until all the liquid is absorbed, then puree them with applesauce. Add the dry, then the wet, then the dry ingredients. A lot of rigmarole and dirty bowls. I think dragging out the food processor pushes me over the edge. It’s just an after school cake after all.

Then I had an epiphany in the form of Pear Cardamom Cake. It comes from a Swedish cookbook that is put out by one of the larger Swedish grocery stores – think Safeway. (As if Safeway could produce such a fantastic book – ha!) A Safeway cake is actually a fairly terrifying prospect. Pear Cake with Cardamom is another story.

Attitudes about baking come from a totally different place in Sweden. Swedes have a long baking tradition but unlike American bakers they bake without any angst. I have never encountered a Swedish recipe that requires sifting, alternating the wet and dry ingredients, simmering then pureeing. Often you can get away with one bowl. You could mix the whole thing with a fork. Which is what I like about this cake. Which is why I had to translate the recipe. A child could make this cake. An adult will love this cake. A delicious autumn and a happy fall.

Pear Cake with Cardamom

  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2-3 tsp cardamom – if your cardamom has been sitting around already ground up for awhile – add the larger amount;  freshly ground – 2 tsp should be enough
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 c. + 2 tbsp milk
  • 2-3 ripe Bartlett pears (if they aren’t lusciously ripe – don’t even bother – just use a can of pears, in pear juice, drained then cut up) Peel them and cut them into 1/2″-3/4″  pieces.
  • fine fresh breadcrumbs from the heel of a loaf of sandwich bread or dried breadcrumbs from a box – about 1/2 cup
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds
  • 2 tbsp pearl sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350.

    Toasting breadcrumbs for the cake pan
    The prepared cake pan
    2.  If you are using fresh breadcrumbs, while the oven is preheating, put the crumbs in a 9 x 2 round springform cake pan and put it in the oven for 5 minutes or so – until they are dried out and crisp. Don’t burn them. When they are done, put them on a plate and let the pan cool off for 5 or 10 minutes. Then rub it with a tbsp of butter and toss the crumbs back in, turning the pan over the sink so the crumbs lightly coat the interior of the cake pan.
    3.  In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and cardamom with a fork.

    4.  Add the egg and milk and mix using the same fork.
    5.  Stir in the melted butter.
    Ripe Bartletts6.  Fold in the pears
    7.  Turn the batter into the prepared cake pan.
    8.  Toss the almonds and pearl sugar over the top.
    9.  Bake for 40-45 minutes and cool on a rack with the sides of the pan loosened but not removed.

    This cake can be eaten warm – I would wait about 20 minutes once it comes out of the oven.

    If you have no IKEA nearby or if you hate to go there, here is a link to order pearl sugar: Lars Own Swedish Pearl Sugar

    I hate to write an “Easy” recipe with a sort of obscure ingredient but it is a truly easy cake and the crunch that the pearl sugar provides – you just can’t duplicate it easily with other sugar products. The almonds + the sugar = very satisfying crunch.

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    High Tea again – a really good call

    I don’t want to write too much about something I’ve already written about so I’ll keep this short. Today is really all about the cake. You must think this is a nutty kind of dinner blog. I keep baking cake for dinner. I don’t think of myself as a person who would find excuses to eat cake all the time. But I am finding that right now at least, we are having cake as a major component of dinner with alarming frequency.

    This weekend my cousin got married. All the champagne, the little sandwiches of rare roast beef, apple slivers and horseradish, the champagne, the crab cakes and more champagne kind of put me over the edge. To say I over-indulged would be an understatement. On Sunday, dinner seemed insurmountable and boring to boot. I thought I was tired of cooking but the truth was I hadn’t even boiled an egg all weekend.

    There were a few ideas I tossed around but they all seemed overwrought, dull, heavy or insubstantial.  Here was my list of dinner ideas for Sunday night:

    1. Bloody Mary Hamburgers with horseradish cream and Worcestershire -although the idea sounded delicious, the name turned me off in the end – it sounded a little gory
    2. Marcella Hazan’s Chickpea Soup with Pasta – seemed like too much work and boring
    3. Fish?! – has the virtue of healthiness but makes the kitchen smell too funny after a crazy weekend
    4. Omelette and toast?!  - very quick but sick of eggs
    5. Salad – too cold, too much work

    In the end I scrapped all those ideas and returned to the brilliant and original idea of high tea. I think, in America, this truly is a very original idea. (In Britain, I’m sure it’s completely banal.) Tea, small sandwiches and a sliver of wonderful cake is rejuvenating, comforting, delicious, diverting and captivating. I can’t say too many good things about tea for dinner. Children like it and grown-ups do too – at least at my house. Tea is easy to put together. No special skills or techniques are required. One thing I like to see at tea though, is one of those tiered serving caddies. Mine’s not fancy; it’s from Target, but it makes everything look scrumptious.

    I had some very ripe bananas so I convinced Martin (he hardly needs convincing in these matters) to make his Swedish banana cake. This is the cake I should have made the last time we had high tea. It’s so likable. Swedish banana cake is quite different from its American counterpart. The lemon rind and juice sets it apart from a typical banana cake. Also, for some reason that I don’t understand, it doesn’t get those weird little black flecks that American banana breads and cake do. I’m not usually crazy about banana bread but this cake is a different story. I love it. You can bake it in any shape. Usually we use a 9″ spring form but Martin decided to make it in a long rectangular tart pan. As always, this cake was very very good.

    Next time I post I promise there will be no cake on the menu.

    Swedish Banana Cake

    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 2 eggs
    • 2/3 cup sugar
    • the rind of half a lemon and its juice
    • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 2-3 very ripe bananas (about 2/3 lb peeled)
    • 1/4 cup milk

    To finish: sifted powdered sugar

    1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
    2. Butter a 9″ springform pan. In Sweden they dust the pan with bread crumbs. We just make breadcrumbs on-the-fly (in an electric coffee grinder reserved for bread crumbs and spices) from a heel of sandwich bread. Cornmeal works and so would flour, I suppose.
    3. Melt the butter in a small pan on the stove or in the microwave and leave to cool.
    4. Whisk the eggs and the sugar until quite fluffy and nearly white in a medium sized mixing bowl. You could use a hand mixer to do this.
    5. Add the lemon rind and lemon juice, the flour and the baking powder.
    6. Peel and mash the bananas in a small mixing bowl. I like to use a potato masher for this job. Stir the bananas into the batter.
    7. Add the butter and the milk and stir until just blended.
    8. Pour batter into the cake pan.
    9. Bake for 35 minutes. Let cake stay in the pan for 10 minutes before  turning it out and letting it cool on a baking rack.
    10. When the cake has cooled, sift a little powdered sugar on top. In the summer when raspberries or strawberries are ripe, they would be very nice with this simple cake.
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    Cake for dinner – High Tea Round 2

    Tonight is the second night of high tea. Or maybe this is just regular old pick-me-up 4:00 tea since it is highly questionable to serve cake as a main course at dinnertime. I will make the kids eat at least 2 little sandwiches first though. I figure when I’m parenting alone, all bets are off. I can do what I want.

    Despite having a lot to do and having Martin out of town, I decided to make my own cake. I really like to make cake and unless I make one for dinner I can hardly write about it on a dinner blog. This is a fabulous cake in a sturdy sort of way. Plus, it has blackstrap molasses in it and as everyone knows, molasses is full of iron and iron is good for you.  So in some way that cancels out the 1/2 lb of butter and the cup of brown sugar and the honey, right?  Anyway, here’s the cake – one of my favorites. It’s good for after school or with a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon.  Good for breakfast or, in fact, for dinner.  A blob of lightly sweetened whipped cream is recommended and traditional.

    Black Sticky Gingerbread - 10 minutes work, tops.  1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours in the oven

    This recipe is from one of my all time favorite books: In The Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley.  This book has never failed me.  The Quince and Dried Cherry Bread Pudding and the Chocolate Mandarin Tart are outstanding. Ms. Daley is a wonderful baker and a very engaging writer.  One caveat:  I had In the Sweet Kitchen for 3 years before I tried any of the recipes because half of the nearly 700 pages are reference materials – all for baking! That kind of threw me off.  One of the great things about this cake is that it is completely unnecessary to haul out the stand mixer.  Even a hand mixer would be overdoing it.  What you want here, is a wooden spoon.

    • 1 cup unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 3/4 cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
    • 3/4 cup flavorful honey
    • 1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 2 tsp ground ginger
    • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp allspice
    • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
    • 3 large eggs at room temperature
    • 1/2 cup 2% milk
    • 1 packed tbsp grated fresh ginger root
    • Lightly sweetened whipped cream to serve
    1. Take the eggs out of the refrigerator and set them in a bowl on the counter (this is so they come to room temperature – I always forget to do this)
    2. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease a 9″ square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper with a 2″ overhang on either side. That way you can take the cake out of the pan easily for serving.
    3. In a saucepan, combine the butter, molasses, honey and brown sugar. Place over low heat. Stir until butter is melted (no need to boil or anything)  and transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool down.
    4. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves.
    5. When the molasses mixture is barely warm, whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the milk and stir. Fold in the dry ingredients in 4 additions – using big long strokes. The batter will be quite lumpy but there should be no white streaks of flour.
    6. Pour the batter into the square pan and bake for 1 1/4- 1 1/2 hours. The top should be springy and a cake tester should come out clean. Cool for 15 minutes and then, using the parchment, lift the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

    This cake is also wonderful because it keeps! For 4 days well wrapped on the counter and up to a week well-wrapped in the fridge.  Don’t forget the whipped cream.

    8:15 pm.  Everyone is asleep in their beds, except me, of course. It’s time for a little confession.  I may have baked that ginger cake for myself – if I am really honest.  It is a wonderful cake.  The kids were good sports about it, but I could tell.  They didn’t like it that much.

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