Adjusting to cooking/baking and figuring out when/where/how to shoot the results in the house has been an interesting process. Back in the apartment, I did most of my shooting on the radiator cover in the kitchen because it was convenient, and it got good light.
Things in the house have been a little tricky, especially when we first moved in. I keep the window shades drawn in the kitchen because the house next door (aka across the driveway, we do kind of live in a city) is being seriously renovated and I don’t need the men over there knocking down walls and such to judge me as I meticulously arrange food, photograph it, then put it away.
But of course, I had nowhere else to shoot really and I liked the look of the kitchen floors, so I started there. Of course I forgot that there was one other obstacle that I’d never ecountered before…a pet able to roam the entire house. And so my first floor shoot was photobombed by my rabbit. Not fun.
So I decided to shoot on the porch floor, where the bunny is not allowed. But getting certain shots on the floor is hard. It’s great for overheads but that’s about it. Finally, we bought a table from Ikea. It now resides on the porch and is my official shooting table. But I made this cake before I had the table, which is why it was shot on the kitchen island. Which doesn’t get great light. Thank goodness for the free version of photoshop I got for work in college.
This cherry cake was one of the first things I made in the house. It was the perfect welcome-to-your-new-kitchen cake. Which means it helped me figure out the temperature variations in the new oven. Scary I know, but thankfully I didn’t burn it. In fact, this melding of cherry and almond into a moist, sweet cake was just what I needed after moving heavy objects around all day.
Cherry Almond Cake
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
Makes one 9” cake, about 10 servings
For the cake:
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
1 ½ cups fresh cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved
For the almond streusel topping:
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup almond paste, crumbled
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
pinch of salt
For the almond glaze:
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp almond extract
2 to 3 Tbsp milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan or pie plate. Set aside.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in egg, buttermilk, vanilla, and almond extract. Mix until combined. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients. Transfer batter to prepared pan and arrange cherries on top of batter.
Next make the almond streusel topping. In a small bowl combine flour, brown sugar, almond paste, butter, and salt. Mix together with your fingers until crumbly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the cake.
Bake cake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 50-55 minutes. Let cool in pan.
While the cake is cooling, make the glaze. In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, almond extract, and just enough milk to make a pourable glaze. Remove cake from pan and drizzle the glaze over it, then let set for 10 minutes. Cut and enjoy!
This cake is an obvious showcase for my love affair with bananas and peanut butter. That being said, let me make it clear that I enjoy peanut butter with only the one fruit.
‘What about apples and peanut butter?’ you ask. Well, that may be a thing, but it’s nothing to me. Hah, I crack myself up. Something about the crisp yet juicy flesh of a good apple seems counterproductive when paired with the salty slickness of peanut butter. The two practically separate in my mouth, leaving me wondering why I didn’t just pick one or the other.
Baking apples and peanut butter together is perfectly acceptable, but only because both parties lose the inherent qualities that make them like matter and anti-matter in my mind. Ugh, all this talk of apples makes me crave fall. Is it September yet?
Ok ok, I’m getting to the cake already. We’ve got caramel, bananas and peanut butter all wrapped up into one shiny package. How can you say no to that?
I had been waiting to make this cake ever since I bookmarked it, and I was pleased with the result. For some reason, my first batch of caramel seized like crazy, but the second one was fine. The cake is dense and moist, and the bananas smothered in their caramel casing are sweet, but not overly so. Very scrumptious, and highly recommended.
Caramelized Banana Peanut Butter Cake
Adapted from Scientifically Sweet
Makes one 8” cake (about 10 servings)
For the caramelized banana layer:
2 medium ripe, but firm bananas, peeled and sliced into ¼” thick pieces
1/3 cup sugar
¼ tsp white vinegar
¼ cup heavy cream
For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 medium banana
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
¼ cup peanut oil
1/3 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line or grease an 8” round cake pan and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, spread the sugar in an even layer and drizzle 1 Tbsp of water over it. Cook, without stirring, until it begins to bubble. Swirl the pan periodically for even heating. Continue to cook until the sugar liquefies and turns golden amber. Remove pot from heat and carefully pour in cream while stirring constantly. Add sliced bananas and return caramel to the heat for 20 seconds. Pour bananas and caramel evenly into the bottom of your prepared pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the bran left in the sieve from the whole wheat flour. Whisk it all together to blend evenly; set aside.
In a large bowl, mash the banana. Whisk in the brown sugar until there are no lumps. Whisk in peanut butter until smooth. Add the egg and whisk until blended. Whisk in oil, milk and vanilla until well incorporated. Fold in dry ingredients until just combined.
Pour the batter over the bananas in the pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes or so, then carefully invert the cake onto a platter. Peel off parchment if you used it. (I greased my pan with cooking spray and nothing stuck to the bottom.) Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yesterday morning I took the GRE, and it feels like a weight has been lifted. I am so happy to have another thing out of the way. Also, you can view your unofficial score when the test is over since it’s done via computer, and I must say that I’m pretty happy with how I did. Double weight has been lifted.
After I finished the test, (it only took about 4 hours) I ran back to the apartment to grab the baked goods that were due in the office that day for a birthday. I had to bake everything ahead of time since I knew I wasn’t making anything the morning of, but I planned it well.
The birthday request was chocolate, and ever since I bought a 10 lb (oh yes, 10 pounds, not ounces) of Guittard dark chocolate, I have wanted to make a flourless chocolate cake. You know, one of those dense, rich tortes that’s practically fudge in cake form but sooo much better? Well, I finally made one.
And it was intense in all the right ways. I am always sad though that I can never take good photos of cakes I bring into the office, obviously because I can’t cut into them, so I can’t style a piece with the rest of the cake as a background prop…which totally reminds me of this post I just saw on Eat The Love. See #24.
Photos under the florescent office lights just don’t look nearly as good as those with natural light. But still, this cake is amazing no matter what lighting you put it under. It has the silkiest consistency paired with a deep chocolate flavor that is absolutely sinful. But wonderful. I think I need to make another just for Luke and me.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Ready For Dessert
Makes one 9” round cake, about 10-12 servings
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, cut into pieces
1 tsp espresso powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 large eggs, separated
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9” springform pan and set aside. In a large heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate, butter and espresso powder. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and ¼ cup sugar until the mixture is light and creamy, about 3 minutes.
In another medium/large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric hand mixer on low speed until they begin to hold their shape. Add the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar gradually and beat on high until the whites hold soft peaks.
Fold the beaten egg yolks into the melted chocolate mixture, then fold in half of the egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites, mixing just until there are no visible streaks of egg whites. Make sure you don’t overfold.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake feels as though it’s just barely set in the center, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely before running a knife around the edges of the pan. Release the sides of the pan and dust the cake with powdered sugar if desired. The cake will last for up to 3 days stored in an air-tight container at room temperature.
So maybe today’s Hop Day with Izzy pic isn’t as cute as previous weeks. Hey, I can’t make her strike cute poses, no matter how much I beg. I always think it’s adorable when it comes time to feed her. She gets so excited, runs in circles, and then shoves her entire head in the food bowl even before I can get it on the ground. You’d think she wouldn’t be that hungry, since when she’s not sleeping, she’s eating hay or vegetables, but I suppose I can’t speculate on what goes inside that bunny brain of hers.
Ok, enough about bunny, because today is a very special day. Which obviously calls for a very special dessert.
Today is my Nana’s birthday. Who is Nana, you ask? Nana is my paternal grandmother, and without a doubt, one of the most supportive, nurturing and loving people in my life.
Even if she does have a photo collage in her bathroom of my brother and myself at various stages of potty training…that all my boyfriends ended up seeing, much to my extreme embarrassment. But that’s just part of her charm.
Her house is a kind of shrine, dedicated to those she loves, and believe me, this lady loves fiercely. But the good kind of fierce. The kind that saves old poems and valentines sent before I could write them without my parent’s help. The kind that sends you little notes every week, as well as the Sunday crossword puzzles cut out from the newspaper.
The kind that offers you anything you want the minute you walk through her front door. The kind that makes you feel special, no matter what. Well, I wanted to share a special dessert that I made in her honor.
Nana loves lemon, so of course I made her something citrusy and bright.
Although it looks like pudding when it goes into the oven, (in a water bath, of course) the top layer comes out as a lemon sponge cake that provides a great texture contrast to the layer of pudding hiding beneath it.
Hopefully someday soon I’ll be able to make these for my Nana in person, but in the meantime, I’ll wish her all my love on her special day. Happy Birthday Nana!
Lemon Pudding Cakes
Adapted from Jo Cooks
Makes 6 individual servings
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, separated
¼ cup (half stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ cups 2% milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, sift together sugar and flour; set aside.
Place egg whites in a medium bowl. Using an electric hand mixer, beat on high speed for 4 to 5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Transfer whites to another bowl.
Add egg yolks to the same bowl. Beat on medium-high speed until the yolks are thick and lightened in color. Reduce speed to medium and add butter, lemon zest and juice; beat for 1 more minute. Alternately beat in flour mixture and milk, making 5 additions of flour and 4 of milk.
Fold in egg whites. Pour batter evenly into 6 ramekins. Place them in a large shallow roasting pan (I used my 9×13” pan). Add hot water until it reaches half way up side of the baking dish.
Bake in the center of oven for 50 to 55 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes, then remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool 10 minutes more.
This post has a disclaimer, which is, if you make this cake, and it sinks in the middle, don’t blame me. I’ve made this cake twice, and it happened to me both times.
Obviously it wasn’t such a bad sinkhole that the cake was ruined, but it was, how shall I put this…less than pretty. Hence all the pictures of evenly cut slices. You don’t want to see the whole loaf. It’s kinda of a mess.
But it’s a delicious mess. Which is truly the only reason why I’m posting about a dessert that ended up ugly twice. I think the sesame is the culprit, but I love the flavor of those delicate little seeds so much, I refuse to make this cake without them.
When I first saw this recipe in Bon Appetit, I knew I had to make it. Even though you need a spice grinder (in technicality only because no, I do not own a spice grinder.) Instead, I used my mortar and pestle to grind the sesame seeds by hand. Maybe that’s why it fell in? To avoid buying a spice grinder or risking a sinking cake, you could buy black sesame paste at your local Asian market.
Why I am just thinking of that now?!?!? Okay, seriously, this cake is so good, I’m going to go out and buy sesame paste and try it again. The combination of black sesame, almond flour and pear chunks may sound strange, but it works. It works so well I want this cake on hand at all times. It works so well I implore you to make this cake even though it’s ugly. I promise it’ll be worth your while.
Black Sesame Pear Tea Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit March 2012
Makes one 9X5” loaf cake
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup almond flour or almond meal
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp plus ½ cup black sesame seeds (or sub in ½ cup black sesame paste)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup buttermilk
1 medium firmly ripe Bosc pear, peeled, cored and cut into ¼” cubes
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9×5” loaf pan, or six 4×2” mini loaf pans and set aside.
Whisk 1 ½ cups flour, next four ingredients, and 2 Tbsp sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Grind remaining sesame seeds in a spice mill (or mortar and pestle) to form a thick paste, about 2 minutes. You can also try substituting ½ cup store-bought black sesame paste here.
Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until well combined, 2-3 minutes. Add sesame paste and beat until blended, 1-2 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk. Beat until pale and fluffy, another 3-4 minutes. Beat the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Toss pears with remaining 2 Tbsp flour in a small bowl and fold into the batter.
Spoon batter into prepared pan(s) and smooth out the top. Sprinkle the top with brown sugar or turbinado sugar.
Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 1 hour 40 minutes for the large loaf and 45-55 minutes for small loaves. Let cool in pans on a wire rack, then invert and serve.
Let me tell you about the first time I ever tasted a piece of tres leches cake. My best friend is Puerto Rican, and has close family living on “the island,” as his mom likes to call it. My mother, brother and I went to visit with them when I was 8, and then I had the privilege of going back solo during the summer before my junior year of college.
Yeah, I know, Puerto Rico in July…a heat and humidity haters dream right? Can I mention that my junior fall semester was the one I spent in Taiwan? That was the longest half-year of my life (and also one of the most exciting.)
Anyway, back to Puerto Rico. When I was there last, we stopped at a little bakery near the apartment we were staying at in Luquillo, on the northeast coast of the island. This hole-in-the wall bakery had the most amazing pastries I had ever seen; delicate puffy shells stuffed with guava paste, mango cream tartlets, huge loaves of pan de agua and sheets of tres leches cake three feet across.
I was intrigued by this large, thin cake, and bought myself a piece. Oh. My. Goodness. My friend’s mother asked me for a bite and I actually said no. Then felt guilty and let her have one in the end.
The sweet sponge cake sopping up the ethereal nectar of the three milks, topped with fresh whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. I was in heaven.
The first time I ever made a tres leches cake on my own, it was a dessert Luke and I brought when we had dinner with one of his former high school teachers. It wasn’t quite as amazing as that piece I had on the island, but it was close.
When I needed something to pair with the chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes (and didn’t feel like making another layer cake), I immediately thought of tres leches cake. And since the cupcake recipe required coconut milk, I thought working the leftover into the tres leches cake would be awesome. I was soooo right.
Coconut Tres Leches Cake
Adapted from A Farm Girl’s Dabbles
Makes one 9X13” cake
For the Cake:
1 ¾ cup cake flour (or all-purpose)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla
For the Soak:
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup coconut milk
For the Topping:
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
cinnamon, for sprinkling on top
For the cake: preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 13″x9″ pan with cooking spray and set aside.
Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter until fluffy. Very slowly add in the sugar and mix to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla and mix again. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three batches and mix until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. It will seem like a small amount of batter for a cake. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake is lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a rimmed platter. I used a small cookie sheet. Poke the top of the cake all over with a fork. Poke it a lot, the more holes, the more opportunity for the cake to absorb the milks. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.
For the glaze: whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut milk in a medium bowl. Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake. Take your time and let it keep soaking in as you pour. The cake will not completely soak up the glaze until it has sat overnight. So, pop it into the fridge and finish it the following day.
For the topping: combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla into a large bowl. Using a hand mixer, mix together until stiff peaks form. Increase mixer to medium speed and whisk until thick. Spread the topping onto the cake, sprinkle with cinnamon, and allow it to chill in the fridge until ready to serve.