Friday, April 30, 2010

lemon poppy seed pound cake: just like in my dreams

It finally feels like spring is upon us. After a day of surprise weather (read: random snow), it is now bright and sunny. Even though it’s still a bit windy, the city is starting to feel alive. It’s amazing how every single year, the first few warm days feel like they are the first warm days EVER. As in, us Montrealers have never experienced sun and warmth before. Yet, even though our summers can be ridiculously hot, we’re still ecstatic every year about having picnics on the mountain or sitting on terraces, drinking a cold beer or a pitcher of sangria. Aaaah, bliss.
This time of the year just makes me so happy. I can’t wait for backyard barbecues and days of lounging out in the sun with good company. Spring and summer also make me think of fresh fruit, tangy citrus and light and crumbly cakes. Lemon is probably one of my favorite types of fruit in desserts. It’s so refreshing and the taste is so strong and definitive. And the best part is that it can go into so many different types of desserts. Lemon mousse, lemon meringue pie, lemon muffins, cupcakes, cakes, cheesecakes, ice cream, cookies….(oh god, gotta wipe off the drool).
Oh and lemon with poppy seeds? Simply amazing. And this pound cake it just that. Simple, yet amazing. This pound cake isn’t too heavy like others because of the lightless of the lemon flavour. Even just its scent puts a smile on my face. However, I wanted to add a little something else so I put some white chocolate chips, but I’m not really sure what happened because I could barely taste it. Perhaps regular chocolate chips would have given a more pronounced taste. Nonetheless, this cake satisfies my lemony needs!
Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
Yields two 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
5 large eggs
2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp salt
2 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)
2 tbsp finely grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
½ tsp pure lemon extract (or vanilla extract if you don’t have lemon)
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup plain yogurt or sour cream
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup white chocolate chips or whatever else you wish - optional
Preheat oven to 350oF. Grease and flour two 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaves or line with parchment paper. (I greased them with cooking spray and put a piece of parchment with overhangs to make it easier to remove the cakes). In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds.
In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar with the paddle until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon zest, extract and yogurt and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the oil and lemon juice. Finally, add the prepared flour mixture and beat until just combined (as in, you don’t see anymore flour – about 10 seconds). Do not overmix otherwise the gluten will develop. If you want to add chocolate chips or something else of the kind, now’s the time to do it.
Divide batter evenly between the loaf pans, smooth the tops with an offset spatula and bake, rotating half-way through, 50-55 minutes until the cakes are golden, spring back to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack about 5 minutes, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.
You can also glaze the cakes with lemon juice (or easier with lemonade) and icing sugar (mix about ½ cup lemonade and ¼ cup icing, adjust to your taste and drizzle over cakes).
Keep at room temperature in a cake dome about 3-4 days. They can also be frozen after being well wrapped in plastic film.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

caramel apple pie: practice makes caramel appley delights

Ok ok, so I know that apple pies are usually made in autumn when the leaves start changing colours, the air gets crisper, we start wearing cozy sweaters, boots and cute hats and maybe even stay at home with a hot cup of tea…(can you tell it’s my favorite season?)…but when one has a pie exam coming up, it’s only natural to practice by making an apple pie. I love apple pies, they’re so classic, yet always delicious. When done right, the crust provides a nice flakiness to the juicy pieces of apple and cinnamon. There’s just nothing like eating a piece of apple pie still warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
So normally at school we would use shortening instead of butter to make the dough because it provides a bit more elasticity, but butter is usually what most people use. Pâte brisée is the most basic recipe for pies. It’s usually used for covered fruit pies and savoury pies (like quiche and pot pies, also some of my most favorite things to eat eveeeer!) The dough is meant to be kind of crumbly but it’ll come together when rolled out. Also, to make this pie even more exciting, I decided to add some caramel to it to give it an even more delicious taste! Seriously, I almost didn’t make the pie because I just wanted to eat the apple slices covered with caramel.
Caramel Apple Pie
Yields one double-crust 9-inch pie

For the pâte brisée (or pâte à tarte):

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
¼ to 1/3 cup of ice cold water
Plus about ½ tbsp sugar
For the filling:
7-8 medium apples (I used McIntosh)
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon (or more if you want!)
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup caramel coulis (I bought a ready-made sauce, like what you would put over a Sundae)
1 tbsp unsalted butter, small pieces

For the pâte brisée:
Start off by mixing the sugar in the water until completely dissolved. For pie dough you can either use a food processor or do it manually. If you have a food processor, mix the flour and salt together in the bowl and add the pieces of cold butter. Pulse, about 30 seconds, until you have coarse crumbs up to ½ inch in size - do not over-mix. If you don’t have a food processor, you can easily mix by hand using a pastry blender to cut the butter.
Now, whether you have a food processor or not, I like to take the mixture out and into a large bowl before adding the water, because otherwise the water won’t reach all the way down when you add it in the food processor. So make a small well and add about 1/8 cup of water and mix using the palm of your hand (this is called fraisage). Add more water if needed to combine everything together. Don’t add too much water though otherwise your dough will be too sticky! Everything should just stick together. Flatten dough into two disks, wrap in plastic and refrigerate about 30 minutes.
For the filling:
Preheat oven to 400oF. Peel, core and slice the apples. In a large bowl, mix apples with the lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, salt and flour. Add about ¼ cup of caramel sauce or more if you want! Mix and set aside.
Roll out one disk of dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch glass pie plate, pressing into the edges. (When rolling out, add a bit of flour to the top of the disk and the rolling pin, just enough so the dough doesn’t stick) Trim the overhang to about ½ inch. Fill with apple mixture and dot with small pieces of butter. Roll out the second disk a bit larger than the first. Brush sides of the filled shell with water or egg wash and place cover on top, pressing down onto the sides to seal together. Trim top overhang to about 1 inch and tuck underneath the bottom shell. You can either make slits or a hole in the middle to allow the steam to escape. I decorated my pie with the excess dough using leaf-shaped cutters. You can decorate yours however you wish! Brush top with water or egg wash and sprinkle with granulated or coarse sugar. Bake on lower third rack for about 45-60 minutes, depending on your oven, until golden brown and juice is bubbling. If you find that the top is baking too quickly, cover with aluminum foil to prevent burning. Cool completely on a wire rack and store at room temperature. Oh, and enjoy!

Monday, April 12, 2010

strawberry cupcakes: sweet somethings

So a really good friend of mine asked me to help him bake cupcakes this weekend to bring to his class and impress everyone, so that’s exactly what I did! This recipe is quite different from regular cupcakes as it requires you to prepare beaten egg whites to fold into the batter, rather than just adding whole eggs to the batter. It gave a nice, white and fluffy texture though I’m not sure if the extra effort is really worth it. Regardless, these cupcakes are moist and the frosting is finger-lickin’ good! Perfect for spring time!

This post was featured in the Top 6 at Cupcake Apothecary blog.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook and Annie’s Eats (frosting)
Yields 24 cupcakes
Ingredients for the cupcakes
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ cups sugar
8 large egg whites (I bought a container of pasteurized liquid whites)
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350oF and line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners or grease them thoroughly. Sift the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. (I usually don’t sift my flour because I’m too lazy but it’s important to sift cake flour because it’s a lot lumpier).
Beat the butter in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until softened and then add 2 cups of sugar (save the other ¼ cup) until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla. Stop the mixer and add about a third of the flour mixture, mix it into the batter a little with a rubber spatula so the flour doesn’t go all over the place when you start it again and alternate with the milk and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined after each addition. Transfer the batter to a large bowl and set aside.
In the clean and grease-free bowl of the electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a whisk on low-medium speed until they are white and foamy. With the mixer on low speed, add the ¼ cup of sugar in a slow stream and beat on high until you get glossy stiff peaks. But be careful not to over-mix otherwise the whites will become dry and lumpy. Now gently fold in 1/3 of the egg-white mixture into the batter with a rubber spatula just until combined using a cutting and folding-over technique. Slowly add the remaining egg whites.
Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 of the way. (I found that I had a bit left over so I decided to make a couple of mini cupcakes too!) Bake for 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. The original recipe said to bake until they are golden brown but I found that they stayed kind of white even after 25 minutes, but since my toothpick came out clean I decided to take them out before they over-baked. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.
Ingredients for the frosting

½ cup strawberry puree (about 5 medium strawberries)
8 oz. (250g) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cups powdered sugar, sifted
½ tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp vanilla
Puree the strawberries in a food processor or blender and strain through a mesh sieve into a bowl. You’re going to have to use a rubber spatula to mix the puree and push down otherwise the liquid won’t go through since it’s so thick. Keep going until there are only seeds left (have patience!). Cream the butter and cream cheese in an electric mixer with the paddle until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar, then the lemon juice, vanilla and strawberry puree. If you find that you want more strawberries, just make some more puree and add it to the frosting.
Decorate the cupcake with the frosting (I like to use a star tip with my piping bag) and garnish with fresh strawberries. Delish!

Monday, April 5, 2010

coconut cake: i went back down south

What a perfect day. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping. I had my camera out and was surrounded by people I love. What could be better than a carefree and relaxing day? Easter is one of my favorite times of the year. This year especially because the weather decided to be un-seasonably and absolutely gorgeous! Aaah let the sun shine down! And Easter is so great because there’s always plenty of food, chocolate, games and…cake. This time: a delicious, white, grand and elegant coconut cake. I’ve had my eye on this cake for a while ever since my brother gave me Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for Christmas and I finally had the opportunity to make it. The texture was light, the frosting smooth but not too sweet and the slivers of fresh coconut gave it that wonderful added coconut kick.
(Cousins make sunny days so much better)

I loved making it. The batter, the frosting…everything. Except for the coconut curls. Oh how I hated making those curls. Sure it looks all beautiful and perfect in the book. But I should have known that Martha could make anything look simple and easy. So maybe it takes a bit of practice but my first crack at it (haha) wasn’t that pleasant. Those perfect slivers that Martha managed to make, well I only ended up getting about half of them out of the whole coconut. But it’s ok, I just used those and ate the rest! Coconuts are just wonderful. I love the taste, but especially the scent. It reminds me so much of summer and tropical islands. My trip to Barbados a couple of years ago was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on and every time I get a whiff of coconuts it just brings me right back.

This cake is moist, light and perfect for a sunny garden party. (Note to self: organize another garden party this summer!) The only thing I would have changed would have been to add more shredded coconut because I didn’t feel that the cake itself was coconutty enough. The recipe calls for 1 cup but I would have put at least 1 ½ maybe even 2 cups. OR add coconut extract to the frosting instead. Either way, it was still delicious. But whatever you do, don’t eat a whole bunch of cake and then a piece of brownie and tart. I couldn’t move after that! (But totally worth it.)

Coconut Cake

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Ingredients for the cake

3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 large whole eggs
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups unsweetened coconut milk
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup packed sweetened, shredded coconut (I would have preferred to use more, like 1 ½ cups)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Procedure for the cake

Preheat oven to 350oF and grease two 9-inch round cake pans. In a large bowl, sift the flour and mix in the baking powder, salt and sweetened shredded coconut. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the softened butter and sugar until lighter in colour and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the whole eggs one at a time and the egg whites, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla.

With the mixer on low speed, slowly add a bit of the flour mixture and alternate with the coconut milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter between the pans and bake for about 55 minutes or until golden brown, springy and a toothpick inserted comes out perfectly clean. When done, transfer to a cooling rack and only remove cakes when they have completely cooled down, about 30 minutes.

Ingredients for the frosting

1 ½ cups sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
6 large egg whites
¼ cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract (or coconut extract if you want more of a coconut taste)

Procedure for the frosting

In a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, combine the sugar, corn syrup, water and egg whites and cook until the mixture is warm to the touch and reaches 70oC (160oF) on a candy thermometer. It’s good to invest in a good quality (but doesn’t have to cost a fortune) candy thermometer, because a lot of really good recipes like for caramel or Italian meringue buttercream require the syrup to reach a certain temperature and it’s hard to do that without one. Once you reach the temperature, beat the mixture with an electric mixer on high speed until you get glossy and stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. If you have an electric stand mixer, just use that bowl directly over the water-bath and transfer it to the mixer to beat. Beat in the vanilla at the end and use immediately. Careful not to overbeat the mixture otherwise the egg whites will dry up.

For the coconut curls

Buy 1 fresh coconut that is free of mold and when you shake it, you can hear the liquid sloshing around inside.

Preheat oven to 350oF. Using an ice pick or a screwdriver and a hammer, pierce two of the three eyes at the stem-end of the coconut to strain the liquid. Place the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the shell begins to crack. Set aside to cool.
Place the coconut on a clean towel and using a flat-head screwdriver, crack the shell off with a hammer. You’ll probably have to do this a couple of times since it won’t likely crack open in one shot. Remove the shell and use a potato peeler to peel off the dark outer skin that’s between the white part and the hard outer shell. Now here’s the part that I struggled with, peel off long, thick strips from the cut edges. I don’t know if it was just me, but I couldn’t really do it well. I also cut my fingers, so make sure you don’t do that! Anyway, once you’ve finished cursing and have your coconut curls, you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge.


To assemble the cake, trim the tops of the cakes to make them level. Place one cake on a cake platter and spread a generous amount of frosting (about 1 ½ cups) on top using an off-set spatula. Place the other cake of top and spread the remaining frosting over the entire cake. The best way to do that is to start off with a small amount of frosting and make a “crumb-coat” to lock in the crumbs then spread the rest of the frosting in a swirly motion. Decorate with coconut curls. Keep refrigerated with a cake dome for up to 3 or 4 days.
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