baking

German’s American cake


German chocolate cake
German chocolate cake is not German. The consummately American cake was created in the U.S. and named after an American chocolatier who worked at the oldest chocolate company in the U.S. In summary, German chocolate cake is named after German’s chocolate bar who created chocolate for bakers at Baker’s. Got it? More precisely, the cake was named after Sam German, who created a more sweetened version of dark baking chocolate at Baker’s, the chocolate company founded in part and owned by Dr. James Baker. Phew! Can we eat it now?

German chocolate cake

This beautiful version of German’s American Chocolate Bar for Bakers by Baker’s Chocolate Cake (which is a more accurate name for this confection, in my opinion) is brought to you by the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook. The cake layers are wafer-thin and deeply chocolatey. The filling substitutes the typical gooey sugar-bomb caramel with a more subtle, coconut milk-infused caramel that is chunky and crunchy. Double the recipe to achieve the height in the photo above to impress your guests visually, then barrage them with trivia about the cake as I have done to dazzle them with your knowledge. Or, as I should, just pipe down and serve it already.

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baking

coco cake: candied orange, cardamom, olive (oil)

When I think of Monisha and Max, I think of colorful, vibrant, adventurous people full of laughter and sweetness, so I knew that the last cake for their wedding picnic I wanted to make a crazy show-stopper with a jumble of wild, but ultimately harmonious, flavors.  Part 3: olive oil cake with candied oranges and cardamom. (Read part 1 here and part 2 here.)


This Mediterranean-inspired cake is bold, bright, and comforting and transports you to a warm, sunny place just by looking at it.  It is kind of labor intensive because you have to make the candied oranges, but boy are they worth it. You’ll be rewarded with the tart-sweet-bitter chewiness of delicious candied orange slices in a cardamom syrup that will eventually be poured over the cake.

One trick I learned: blanch the sliced orange three times in fresh boiling water (rinse slices gently and replace the water each time)  as this helps to remove the bitterness from the white pith in the orange skin. If you enjoy that bitter contrast, don’t worry about this step.


You can make the candied oranges ahead of time and save them in the refrigerator between waxed paper in an airtight container.  You also won’t use up all of the syrup (I found that half is enough to soak the cake without making it soggy – you want it to flavor every bite) so save the leftover orange/cardamom simple syrup for fruit compotes and clever cocktails.


The cake is crumbly from the semolina, fruity from the olive oil, earthy and moist when drenched with cardamom orange syrup, sweetly fresh from the chewy candied orange, and warmly crunchy from the pistachios – just a bounty of textures and a melody of flavors. Once composed on the plate, the vivid palette lures you to join the party, and all you can do is lift up your fork in celebration.

baking

key coco lime



The second cake I made for Monisha and Max’s wedding picnic was a play on this super-delish margarita cake that we all enjoyed. For Max I chose a refined chocolate cake with warm and soothing flavors, so for Monisha I wanted to make something more tropical that was vibrant and bright. Part 2: Key lime coconut bundt cake. (Read part 1 here.)

 

I went to my trusted source, Gourmet, for this stellar Key lime coconut cake recipe. The zesty acidity of the limes are in perfect contrast to the toasty crunch of coconut, yielding a cake that is somehow quite refreshing. This cake is wonderfully moist from the Key lime simple syrup and has a delicate crumb, with bits of chewy coconut throughout.

I tried the cake with only regular Persian limes as well, and let me tell you: fresh Key limes really make this cake sing – the result is less sour and more aromatic, especially if you use slightly yellower (sweeter) Key limes. If they’re not in season, you could use bottled key lime juice or alternately the more common Persian limes.


I tried the syrup/glaze two different ways. Above, I soaked the warm cake in syrup and added the coconut on top (as called for in the original recipe). I also tried mixing the coconut straight into the glaze, which will then set more into a formed topping that you can see below. My preference was for the glaze in the cake with coconut added separately as the fresh lime permeates every crumb of cake rather than be concentrated (and for me, overpowering) in the topping. However, by mixing the coconut into the glaze it definitely sticks to the cake better, so I’d consider adding a bit less lime to the glaze if you go this way.

For the moistest, most flavor-packed cake: use half of the glaze on the bottom of the cake while it is still cooling in the pan by poking holes with a skewer or toothpick. After 5 minutes, turn out of the pan and add the rest of the glaze to the top (poke some more holes on the top, too).  The result: a really tender cake with sweet toasty coconut and tangy, aromatic Key lime that actually tastes even better the next day as the flavors meld over time.

baking, Uncategorized

earl cocoa tea


My darling buds Monisha and Max got hitched in an intimate and personal ceremony under the California sun. The best part of the day was the “it takes a village” spirit of family and friends building, decorating, cooking, and arranging to throw together a wedding picnic for the amazing couple. My job was to bring some cakes to serve with Max’s mom’s homemade fruit pies with gemlike berries culled from her own garden.

I needed an arrangement of cakes that were suitably festive, offered guests a variety of flavors, complemented the fresh fruit pies, and most importantly – could withstand that California sun for hours preceding serving. Phew! My brain calculated all the possibilities of a non-frosted but not-just-poundcake effort and came up with following: cakes that are festive by shape (Bundt) or topping (candied oranges), that are interesting with surprising flavor combinations, and that remained moist sitting outdoors. Shown together above, I think they were befitting of a casual, yet celebratory occasion. Part one: earl grey tea chocolate bundt cake.


Max (good man that he is) likes chocolate, so this one is for him. To me, the perfect chocolate cake has tons of gooey buttery frosting and that would not possibly withstand a day of sitting outdoors. So, instead I wanted to go in an unexpected direction with the routine chocolate cake and this recipe for Earl Grey tea/chocolate cake was a standout. The flavors are surprising but utterly smoothly melt together in your mouth. I found that adding semisweet chocolate chips or chopped semisweet chocolate (about 1/2 cup) really helped bring out the chocolate flavor and added bursts of texture. A dusting of powdered sugar is all the prettying up it needs, although a drizzle of melted chocolate would be welcome, too.

This cake is spongy with the fragrant bittersweet notes of black tea  complementing the light smooth flavor of chocolate, and yet it was not overly rich or sugary.  You have here a chocolate cake light enough for afternoon tea but sweet enough for a formal dinner dessert.

baking

almonds and roses and oranges – oh, my

For my recent Moroccan night meal, I needed a Moroccan inspired dessert that was easy to make ahead of time. I decided to slightly alter this recipe for almond cake with orange blossom syrup by making an almond cake with rose water. Ethereal and fragrant rose water, to me, is a clear flavor trip to North Africa, Middle East and South Asia. I simply omitted the vanilla in the recipe and added 1 teaspoon almond essence and 1 teaspoon rose water essence to the batter. You can find this in a specialty grocer or an Indian or Middle Eastern shop. A little bit of rose water goes a long way! Make sure not to add too much or else your cake will taste like a bar of fancy soap. For this recipe I also used whole fat Greek yogurt and made the simple orange syrup without the orange blossom essence. The syrup added another fragrant layer to the flavor and really helped keep this nutty crumbly cake moist the next day.

baking, lunch/dinner

trans-bay tex-mex

Now that my buddy Monisha is for-sure firmly settled all the way across the bay, we don’t get to spend as much time together except for our semi-monthly series of pizza taste testing.  So, we planned to get together and make dinner, maybe even semi-regularly if we can tamp down the inertia that glues us to our sides of the water.  For our first endeavor, we came up with a Tex-Mex theme because she had a perfect recipe she had wanted to make. And, oh how perfect it was. The tortilla soup with corn and roasted red peppers from Mollie Katzen (veggie maven of  the Moosewood Cookbook fame) was bold with both flavor and body that a lot of vegetable soups can sometimes lack.  Monisha wisely saved a few of the herbs and veggies from puréeing, which added texture and made the soup much heartier.  Definitely add the lime, it adds a needed citrus kick that plays nicely off of the chilies.

I made a batch of Ina Garten’s cheddar and jalapeño cornbread to accompany the soup.  This ended up with more of a quichey texture than I expected as I halved the recipe and didn’t have half an egg. However, as non-traditional as it was in terms of cornbread, it was still buttery, rich, and salty-sweet as you could ever want. In other words, a perfect foil for a zesty soup.  I couldn’t really taste the jalapeños, so I may leave the seeds in next time.  I was impressed with our due diligence, as we polished the whole pan off in one sitting.

For dessert, we got tipsy over this margarita cake – simple and unadorned but moist and juicy with bursting flavor.  Double-glazing the cake means not only a super moist cake but also that the luscious margarita flavor soaks into the cake and gives it a tart sweet zing with a background of tequila warmth.  You don’t really taste the alcohol in the cake itself, but with the glaze it’s like the best things in life together on one fork: sweet moist cake and a tart strong margarita.  I’d splurge on a really good margarita mix for this, and if you can find it I highly recommend Tommy’s Margarita Mix.  Tommy’s is a landmark Mexican restaurant here in SF known for their tequilas and their delicious, delicious margaritas.  If you only have access to frozen margarita mix, I’d cut 1/2 cup of the frozen concentrate with 1/4 cup water for the cake but use a tablespoon straight up frozen for the glaze.  This recipe makes enough batter for a Bundt pan or two 8 inch cakes, but since I weirdly made one 10 inch cake, I just used the leftover batter to make mini-cupcakes.

Margarita Cake with Tequila Glaze

Cake:

1 package white cake mix

1  package instant lemon pudding mix

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup margarita mix

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup gold tequila

2 tablespoons triple sec

Glaze:

3 tablespoons tequila

2 tablespoon triple sec

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon margarita mix

2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour pan (one Bundt pan or two 8 inch pans).

For cake: Combine all cake ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 5 minutes at medium speed of an electric mixer. Pour into prepared pan and bake 45-50 minutes for Bundt pan (or 35-40 minutes for 8 inch pans), or until an inserted toothpick in the center comes out clean.

While cake is baking, prepare the glaze: Mix all glaze ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add more sugar if needed to desired consistency.

Cool cake in pan for 5 minutes. Use a fork to poke holes on top of the warm cake while in the pan. Drizzle 1/2 of the glaze over the cake. Cool cake for another 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely. Spoon the rest of the tequila lime glaze over cooled cake.

Serves 12

Last but not least, we ended an evening full of cooking, laughter, and stuffed tummies with a refreshing palate cleanser in the form of watermelon granita. We had to end our Tex-Mex night with another touch of tequila, but that is optional for you (or, consider vodka).

Watermelon Tequila Granita

1 watermelon, about 4 lbs

1/2 cup sugar

juice and rind of 1 lime

1/2 cup gold tequila

1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped

Cut the flesh from a ripe watermelon into 1-2 inch cubes. Place the watermelon into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Mix in the sugar, lime juice and rind, and tequila until the sugar is dissolved. Place the mixture into a shallow pan and into the freezer. Every hour or so, scrape up the ice crystals with a fork. In a few hours you’ll have a perfectly pink, icy, juicy tequila-watermelon granita. Garnish with fresh mint.

Serves 6

baking

cookies take the cake

The postings have been slim because the eating’s been slim recently, unless photos of Greek yogurt and protein bars day after day after day intrigue you.   Then a breakthrough moment, when having lost a harmless bet to B meant I owed him something delicious, fresh-baked and definitely not part of the boring routine.  Knowing that B is quite the carrot cake aficionado, I remembered that I had this great bon appétit recipe forwarded to me by Anna for carrot cake cookies.  How brilliant is that? Bite-sized cookies with the crisp-chew of oatmeal cookies, but with the golden sweetness of carrot cake.  I looked the recipe over and it is really simple, and carrots are totally healthy right? I wouldn’t even feel guilty if I succumbed to temptation and tried one or two…or more.  The only tweak I made was using a basic cream cheese buttercream rather than the recipe’s frosting, which has lemon juice and cream. I didn’t want to worry about the frosting making the cookies soggy or spoiling, and a whipping together a stick of butter, a cup of powdered sugar, an 8 ounce package of cream cheese and a teaspoon of vanilla is super easy.  After the cookies were made and stacked up in little orange piles all over my kitchen, I couldn’t imaging storing them would be easy with frosting just the domed tops.  So, I decided to  stick ’em together and made sandwich cookies for easy packaging to deliver to my debtor.  The funnest part was sorting through the cookies and matching up cookie bottoms to make sandwiches. As in life, no matter what size or bizarre shape they turned out to be, each cookie had a perfect mirror image to fit them.

baking

bleeding mauve velvet

I love layer cakes, but rarely have occasion to make them. Transporting and devouring three entire cakes requires a proper setting with a cast of accomplices.  Hence, the plethora of cupcake posts on this blog (portable cake! individual servings!) So when B asked me to consider contributing a dessert for a family Christmas dinner with Anna and Pat, I was excited to make a glorious layer cake.  A few things, though: it had to be festive so chocolate/vanilla boringness would not do. Also, I had not made a layer cake in years, so I needed a recipe that was fool-proof for a potential spaz like me. I could see a future with a gentle suggestion to bring something store-bought next time. Lastly, it had to be universally appealing, or rather – nothing too weird.

With this in mind, I have learned: in Paula we trust. I don’t know much about Paula Deen. However, I am aware of her position as the premier Southern food belle in popular American cookery.  So, when I had decided that the perfect festive, straightforward, not-too-weird Christmas cake would be red velvet, I researched and researched recipes, and came up with Paula Paula Paula. I have made red velvet cupcakes before, and this recipe was closest to what I knew from them: red velvet is a cocoa-based cake but not chocolatey, the buttermilk tang is distinctive in its flavor, and although cream-cheese frosting is not traditional, I personally think it tastes best paired with the cake.

The recipe wasn’t difficult but I was initially worried with the results. I used no-taste red gel food coloring because the thought of an entire bottle of food coloring to produce the deep red color makes me gag. The gel is more potent, so you use less of it, and it doesn’t taste (as) chemically. I doubled the cocoa to get a deeper, richer flavor, which in turn made the batter more brown and the end result was mauve. Mauve velvet cake. After I baked two 9″ cakes, the layers were disappointingly thin, maybe less than 1.5 inches tall each. I was hoping for a tall towering cake, so I baked an extra layer – which was a completely different color mauve than the first two. Ah, bi-colored cake. That’s festive, right?

I froze the cake layers, then thawed and assembled them at Anna’s. Once unwrapped of plastic wrap and foil, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cakes remained moist, REALLY densely moist.  In fact, it was messy to try to even the layers because of the stickiness of the cake tops, so my stacking of the layers was a bit lurchingly lopsided. It’s nothing that copious amounts of icing can’t fix! The icing was easy to whip up if you substitute a jar of marshmallow fluff for the melted ‘mallows. The result was easy to spread and the sweet marshmallow mellows the cream cheese nicely. The final cake was bi-colored, dense, mauve, not too chocolatey, sufficiently rich, moist, and I think, delicious.

baking

a blue summer

There’s something magical about blueberries. A perfect portion of sweetness with a tart bite, and packed with health crusading antioxidants, how can you go wrong? Plus that mysterious blue – nature graces us with gorgeous picks from all over the color wheel but blue? Nope, just blue potatoes and corn that I can think of.  Supposedly blue is an appetite suppressant, perhaps as some primordial reflex to avoid poisonous prey.  And now, all I can think of is the Drano hangover cure from Heathers, so….good one, nature! But you got it all wrong with the blueberries. Who can resist cramming these beauties in your mouth by the handful? This summer season, I’ve had a pint (or three) in my fridge at all times but go through them so fast with only berry stained lips and fingers as evidence. I’ve also enjoyed dropping them in willy-nilly to my baking, because that burst of sweetness seems to make just about any baked good sing. I shopped around for a blueberry muffin recipe, but I tend to find them a bit boring. Something about the consistency and the weird grayish-blue batter that results is not appealing. Then I remembered that I much prefer blueberry cornmeal pancakes to regular pancakes, and the thought of a sweet, grainy, golden corn muffin seemed a perfect setting for ripe berries.  My favorite recipe for blueberry cornmeal muffins is from The Baker’s Daughter. The muffins are rich and sweet, more like a cupcake even, without that bitter aftertaste some corn muffins can have. And I love the addition of the berries to the top of the muffin (like with pancakes) to prevent the batter from turning gray and the berries getting smooshed. I made these for a camping trip to Yosemite and despite the sweetness and creaminess, they paired rather nicely with the gloriously spicy and hearty vegetarian chili that our friend made over the open flame.

My other favorite blueberry-added recipe this summer has been a sour cream pound cake. You can use any pound cake recipe you like, but I find that replacing the buttermilk or milk with sour cream makes a decadently rich and moist cake that is deceptively light and fluffy in texture – not your usual dry, dense, brick that some associate with pound cake. Beware, though, that this makes it all the more likely to down 2-3 slices at a sitting and certainly, this is not diet food. The trick to keeping the blueberries whole is to toss them with a spoonful of flour before gently folding them into the batter right before baking. I used this recipe with the aforementioned tip, as well as adding a 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract which really complimented the fresh berry taste and I think elevated this cake to “scrumptious summer food memory” levels.

 

baking

new year, new coco

coconut_cake

So I have been a bit MIA – travel, bored, uninspired. But it’s a new year, and tomorrow, a new hope – as all eyes will be on DC for the inauguration of Barack Obama.  Who isn’t swept up in this whirlwind of excitement when history will be made? I know our household is pretty stoked, and rather than weather the freezing masses in DC, we plan to watch it all unfold in a toasty home with some good eats. We’ll be making Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, a nod to one of the culinary accomplishments of the city that sends us their own Mr. Smith.  And for dessert, I was inspired by Obama’s childhood in Hawaii for a cake full of tropical flavor.  So for a sweet ending to a memorable election, here is a luscious coconut cake – moist, fluffy and rich – that looks and tastes just as I imagine a bite out of cloud nine would.

Coconut Layer Cake

Bon Appétit, December 1999

2 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 and 3/4 cups sugar

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup canned sweetened cream of coconut (not coconut milk)

4 large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

4 cups of sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and cream of coconut in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla extract. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients and then buttermilk, each just until blended.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold beaten egg whites into batter.

Divide cake batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool.

coconutcake2

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2003

2 8-oz packages of cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup canned sweetened cream of coconut (not coconut milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond or coconut extract (optional)

Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar, then cream of coconut and both extracts. Chill until firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes.

Frost top of one layer of cake, top with coconut to cover.  Place second cake on top and frost generously on top and all sides. Top with coconut and press coconut into sides.